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Congress backs loyalist Navin

Congress backs loyalist Navin

Author: Balbir Punj
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 6, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/154571/Congress-backs-loyalist-Navin.html

It may not surprise long-time political observers that the Congress has sought to defend Election Commissioner Navin Chawla after Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami recommended his removal from office. The Congress's defence, that all Election Commissioners are equal, is not borne out by what the Constitution says.

Article 324, which defines the constitution and powers of the Election Commission of India, has made a clear distinction between the Chief Election Commissioner and the Election Commissioners. Two provisions to Clause 5 of the Article say: "Provided the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be removed except in the manner and on the like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court and the conditions of service of the Chief Election Commissioner shall not be varied to his disadvantage after his appointment;… Provided further that any other Election Commissioner shall not be removed from office except on the recommendation of the Chief Election Commissioner."

Nothing could be more specific about the unique position of the CEC. At the most, the Government may advise the President that it does not automatically follow that the CEC's recommendation about removing an EC from office should be accepted. But the integrity of the Election Commission comes into dispute after one of the ECs is asked to be removed by the CEC and the President (on the advice of the Government) refuses to do so.

If the President fails to act as per the constitutional provision, it will be obvious that the Government has acted in a partisan manner with the specific intention of undoing the integrity of the Election Commission as a whole. The whole country is now told that the commission is a house divided. How can such an institution convince the people that the coming general election will be conducted in an impartial manner?

The ruling combine is also indulging in mud-slinging by claiming that the CEC was appointed by the BJP-led NDA Government and hence is close to the Opposition party. Such allegations further undermine the Election Commission. We have had several CECs who, though appointed by the Government then in power, have enforced decisions that hurt the ruling party. We had Mr TN Seshan, a former Cabinet Secretary who made a mark by his strong views and independent ways and curbed election expenditure to the chagrin of every political party. Before him there have been other CECs who had the courage of conviction to stand by their decisions on controversial issues.

It is this independence of the Election Commission that the Congress is aiming to destroy and make it subservient to the Government of the day. By attributing motives to the considered decision of a distinguished former civil servant, it wants to reduce the Election Commission to no more than just another official body which won't take any independent decisions.

This shouldn't amaze us as the past six decades are replete with instances of the Congress subverting the powers of constitutional authorities. For example, it appointed a junior judge as the Chief Justice of India, bypassing senior judges, in the 1970s. On that occasion the Congress had argued that the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, should be in tune with the ideology of the party in power. The three senior judges who had been superseded resigned, but the Congress went ahead with its decision.

It may be recalled that this move of the Congress to subvert the judiciary's independence resulted in judges endorsing the suspension of fundamental rights during the Emergency. The only judge who stood up to the Government was Justice HR Khanna who refused to succumb to the tactics of the Congress and upheld the Constitution.

In 1976 an attempt was made to amend the Constitution in a manner that would ensure immunity for the Prime Minister from any court cases or allegations. Its purpose was to ensure that Mrs Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister (and all other members of her family who would succeed her in office) would be protected from any charges of misuse of power. But for the Congress being thrown out of power in 1977, it would have ensured this immunity in violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

Yet another institution of international reputation that was destroyed was Sapru House and its library which was meant to promote independent research. Sapru House was captured by a demagogue through the simple technique of packing the membership list with party loyalists. Within a few years the reputation of Sapru House and its famed library lay in tatters.

Simultaneously, the Congress has ensured that public facilities, for instance airports, are named after members of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. The Congress Government of Andhra Pradesh refused to name the new airport in Hyderabad after NT Rama Rao.

Delhi provides umpteen examples of this obsession of the Congress to force institutions to become subservient to the party or bear the name of one of the members of the Nehru-Gandhi family to the exclusion of other leaders, especially those who were in the forefront of the struggle for independence. The airport is named after Mrs Indira Gandhi. The largest centre for the arts is also named after her. The civil aviation secretariat bears the name of Rajiv Gandhi. An institution of academic excellence has been named after Jawaharlal Nehru. Connaught Place has been renamed after Rajiv Gandhi. The list is endless.

The attempt to impose control over constitutional institutions by appointing party loyalists to important positions in them and the insistence on naming Government-funded institutions and facilities after the Nehru-Gandhi clan is indicative of the fascist streak in the Congress's approach to politics which is focussed on promoting the interests of the party and its 'high command'. It hardly does justice to India's identity as the world's largest democracy.


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