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Chawla episode puts Left again on trial

Chawla episode puts Left again on trial

Author: Pioneer News Service
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 4, 2008

The BJP has slammed the reported move by the UPA Government to amend the Constitution to strip the Chief Election Commissioner of power to recommend the removal of other commission members, saying it was a politically motivated exercise to preempt action against Election Commissioner Navin Chawla.

The main Opposition also feels this episode will once again put on trial the Left parties that will have to make a judgement whether to blindly support the "constitutionally inappropriate" action of the Congress or lean in favour of strengthening independent constitutional institutions.

The NDA recently petitioned the CEC for the removal of Chawla for his "partisan conduct" before his acquiring the membership of the Election Commission and afterwards.

The NDA's petition had mentioned, extensively, the role of Chawla during the Emergency, the observations made by Justice Shah Commission, his acquisitions of prime postings during Congress regimes, grant of MPLAD funds by Congress MPs to private trusts controlled by him.

BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, who is spearheading party's campaign against Chawla, said it is this close proximity of Chawla to the Congress and its political functionaries that creates an apprehension in the minds of the right thinking people that he cannot function independently and in a detached manner as a member of the Election Commission.

"The Election Commission should be politically detached and equi-distanced. If the practice of appointing partisan persons as members of Election Commission gets established as a precedent, it will provide a temptation for future Governments to pack the Election Commission with its own sympathisers," Jaitley said.

The threat, he elaborated, is more acute because it is not an independent collegium that nominates the members of the Election Commission but the political Government of the day which does so.

The senior BJP leader said Law Minister HR Bhardwaj's statement that Government might go for a constitutional amendment to make CEC at par with other Election Commissioners is conclusive of how much value the Congress attaches to the continuation of Chawla in the Election Commission.

"When this statement is read in the context of the action of Prime Minister's Office in not even forwarding the petition seeking Chawla's removal to the Chief Election Commissioner for his recommendations, the vested interest of the Congress in his continuation gets confirmed," Jaitley asserted.

The party reiterated Constitution deliberately provided for a CEC to make recommendations whether to continue or not a member of the Commission, as what goes on within the four walls of the Election Commission is known only to the Chief Election Commissioner and not to the political Government.

"If there is an allegation of bias against a member of the Election Commission of favouring the Government in power, it is only appropriate that it is the Chief Election Commissioner who adjudicates the allegation of bias and not the political establishment which is the beneficiary of that bias," Jaitley remarked.

The BJP said Government seems to have "conveniently forgotten" that it is an amendment to the Constitution that it is perceiving and the Congress does not command a two-third majority in either Houses of the Parliament to amend the Constitution.

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