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Malafide Move

Malafide Move

Author: Editorial
Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: February 4, 2008

The reported move to amend the law only to protect the controversial Election Commissioner Navin Chawla is malafide. It must be nipped in the bud. The Prime Minister had earlier abdicated his responsibility when he allowed the Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss to enact a law aimed only at the dismissal of Dr. P. Venugopal, the widely-respected Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

The proposed save-Chawla law is of a piece with that individual-specific law sponsored by Ramadoss and endorsed by Manmohan Singh. In this case, the misdeed is to be done by the Law Minister Hansraj Bhardwaj. On Friday, Bhardwaj revealed his intention to move a constitutional amendment for bringing election commissioners at par with Chief Election Commissioner.

Denying that the move had anything to do with the NDA petition against Chawla given to the CEC N. Gopalaswamy, the minister countered that the said amendment was proposed by the then CEC T S Krishnamoorthy in July 2004. Krishnamoothy had sought "very same protection and safeguards in the matter of removeability of ECs from office as is available to CEC."

Bhardwaj did not say why he had slept over that recommendation for well over three years and why he had now suddenly thought of acting upon it. But it was clear that the need to protect Chawla against likely action against him by the CEC was the immediate objective. The Constitution provides for the removal of CEC through a well-defined impeachment process by parliament.

As for the Ecs, they can be removed on the recommendation of the CEC. Last week a delegation of NDA leaders submitted a petition seeking the removal of Chawla to Gopalaswamy. While disposing of the plea of the BJP leader Jaswant Singh for the removal of Chawla, the apex court had taken due note of the CEC submission that he was free to recommend the dismissal of an EC in case there was a tenable case against him.

The court then directed the petitioner to seek remedial action against Chawla from the CEC. The NDA petition detailed various acts of omission and commission of Chawla, arguing that he can neither be independent nor fair as an election commissioner. Given Chawla's mediocre record in service, his servility towards Congressmen and money transactions of his private trusts with Congress leaders, it is fair to assume that he cannot discharge his functions as an all-important watchdog of the electoral process independently and impartially.

As we noted in this space on Friday, ideally Chawla should have volunteered his resignation following scandalous public disclosures of his trusts. Confidence in his ability to discharge his official functions independently and fairly has been fully eroded after his close ties with the ruling Congress Party were laid bare. His record as a hatchet man of Sanjay Gandhi in the Emergency too is a blot on his reputation.

Therefore it would have been fit and proper if he himself had opted out of the Commission. But now that Gopalaswamy is due to retire shortly and Chawla is next in line to become the CEC, the matter of his removal has acquired urgency. Either Chawla reads the writing on the wall and resigns or else Gopalaswamy must do the right thing by the Constitution and seek his removal in the larger interest of Indian democracy. We cannot have someone who is suspected to be a factotum of a political party presiding over as the boss of Nirvachan Sadan. Chawla must go.

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