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EC rift over Sonia now out in open

EC rift over Sonia now out in open

Author: Akshaya Mukul
Publication: The Times of India
Date: February 19, 2008

Introduction: Panel Finally Serves Her Notice

Always known in the corridors of power, differences in the Election Commission - among Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy and the two ECs Navin Chawla and SY Qureishi - have come out in the open on the issue of serving notice to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on a complaint seeking her disqualification as MP for accepting a Belgian honour.

After deliberating for more than five months during which the PM's principal secretary, TKA Nair, also paid a visit to the commission pleading that there was no case against Sonia and that the PM had already examined the matter, the commission on Wednesday finally decided to issue notice to Sonia.

But this was not without backroom drama and last minute change of mind. While Gopalaswamy and Chawla were in favour of issuing notice, Qureishi felt there was no case against the Congress chief and, therefore, the matter should not be pursued. With two-third in favour of issuing notice to Sonia, the commission's decision was finalised on February 8. On February 11, the CEC and the two ECs exchanged their orders.

But the subsequent delay happened because Chawla kept the file with him on one pretext or the other. Even on Wednesday, Chawla was not in favour of making the decision public since he wanted to give a rejoinder to the comments made by CEC about him (Chawla) in his nine-page order. But the CEC decided to make public the decision of issuing notice to Sonia.

Differences in the commission also played out on the issue of consulting the external affairs ministry. Gopalaswamy's contention was that the MEA had no locus standi since the ministry was neither the giver nor the receiver of the award. Chawla had said that the MEA should be consulted on the issue.

Unknown to him, though, Qureishi spilled the beans and noted that Chawla had already spoken to the foreign secretary and that there was nothing wrong in consulting a "respectable and responsible" source. So two-third of the commission decided in favour of consulting MEA with Chawla and Qureishi on the one side and Gopalaswamy in the minority. Gopalaswamy had argued that the commission is a quasi-judicial body and it would be a case of impropriety if any member consults MEA.

- akshaya.mukul@timesgroup.com

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