New Delhi: The government is keeping all its options open, including not naming election commissioner (EC) Navin Chawla as successor to the chief election commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami when he retires on 20 April, said a top government official close to the development.
This comes in the wake of the controversy stirred by Gopalaswami, who in a letter sent to President Pratibha Patil on 15 January, accused Chawla of partisanship given his alleged intimacy with the leaders of the ruling Congress party and asked for his removal. The President had forwarded the letter to the Prime Minister. It was subsequently sent to the law ministry for its views.
“The government has three options—reject the recommendation, sit on it to buy more time or appoint the next election commissioner after the retirement of Gopalaswami immediately and let the new commission decide on the CEC’s successor,” the official said, while requesting anonymity. “There is no provision that insists that the senior-most (EC) should be the next CEC. The appointment of the new election commissioner will be (made) in the coming days,” the official added. Chawla, the senior-most EC after Gopalaswami, was expected to be the next CEC.
Power struggle: A file photo of chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami (right) with election commissioner Navin Chawla in New Delhi. Subhav Shukla / PTI
Meanwhile, a senior Congress party leader close to the matter said Gopalaswami’s recommendation to sack Chawla is an “outcome of the government’s reluctance in extending his (Gopalaswami’s) term”. In response, Gopalaswami said: “On the same day (15 January) I have written to the President that after (their) retirement, (the) election commission members should be debarred from taking up any appointment, which has the seal and signature of the President. If I was looking for any post, I wouldn’t have written it.”
Experts are less willing to blame the CEC on the matter just yet. “It is difficult to say whether Gopalaswami’s action was right or wrong without reading the full text of his order to the President. But it is unfortunate that the political parties are politicizing it in such a manner,” said former CEC T.S. Krishnamurthy.
The demand for the removal of Chawla from the election commission was first made by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in March 2006. The party also alleged that Chawla was partisan towards the Congress party. Joining the debate on the controversy, leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani said on Sunday, the government should accept the CEC’s proposal without any delay. “The chief election commissioner’s recommendation with regard to Navin Chawla be forthwith accepted by government,” Advani wrote in his blog.
Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, lashed out at Gopalaswami, terming his move as “out of bounds” and demanded that the proposal, which raised suspicion of members “playing politics”, be rejected. Criticizing the BJP and the Congress for nominating their “pet bureaucrats” in the Election Commission leading to its “degeneration”, the CPM called for urgent reforms of the central poll authority. “The suo motu recommendation by chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami to remove one of the election commissioners Navin Chawla is out of bounds and can only damage the institution of the Election Commission,” a CPM politburo statement said.