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BJP attacks Govt move to equate ECs with CEC

BJP attacks Govt move to equate ECs with CEC

Publication: Free Press Journal
Date: February 4, 2008

Attacking the Centre's reported move to amend the Constitution to equate the Election Commissioners with the CEC, the BJP on Sunday asked the Left parties to clarify whether or not they would "blindly support the constitutionally inappropriate action".

BJP General Secretary Arun Jaitley, who is leading the campaign for removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla for his alleged proximity to Congress, said they were upset at the Union Law Minister's statement that the Constitution would be amended "to create parity between the three members of the EC".

He said the move was aimed at making the NDA petition - which seeks the removal of Chawla as Election Commissioner - "infructuous". Jaitley said the Central government "seems to have conveniently forgotten" that the Congress does not command a two-third majority in either House of Parliament and cannot possibly amend the Constitution, "even with the support of allies".

Asking the Left parties to articulate their stand on the issue, the senior BJP leader said the Left had a "dubious role" with regard to issues like "partisan governors" and office-of-profit. "Chawla's episode will once again put the Left parties on trial. They will have to make a judgement on whether to blindly support the constitutionally inappropriate action of the Congress party or lean in favour of strengthening independent constitutional institutions," he said.

The government had on Friday came out in strong defence of Chawla and disclosed that it was considering a Constitutional amendment that will equate the Chief Election Commissioner with two other members of the commission. Asked whether the government was considering bringing the Election Commissioners at par with the CEC, Bharadwaj had said "yes, definitely.

There is no difficulty. If this Constitutional amendment is to be brought...then we can definitely bring it. This is part of a package". Jaitley said the Law Minister's statement has confirmed "our worst fears" that the government would be willing to go to any extent to "save" Chawla.

This is the second time a constitutional amendment is being planned to "save" one individual, the first instance being what was done in the case of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi 33 years ago, he said. The government's statement "is conclusive of how much value the Congress attaches to the continuation of Chawla as a member of the EC," he said.

When the statement is read in context of the Prime Minister's Office "not even forwarding" the petition against Chawla to the CEC, "the vested interest" of the Congress in his continuation "gets confirmed," he alleged. Jaitley said if there is an allegation of bias against a member of the EC, it is appropriate that the CEC adjudicates the matter, and not the political establishment.

The Constitution "deliberately provided" for a CEC to make recommendations on whether to continue with a member of the EC, the BJP leader contended. He added that the constitutional position regarding the status of the CEC and the Election Commissioners was governed by the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of T N Seshan versus Union of India in 1995.

Jaitley cited the observation, which had said that the CEC is intended to be a "permanent incumbent" and in order to preserve and safeguard his independence, "he had to be treated differently." He noted that the court had said the other ECs "are not intended to be permanent incumbents". The EC should be "politically detached", Jaitley said, adding, "If the practice of appointing partisan persons as members of EC gets established as a precedent, it will provide a temptation for future governments to pack the EC with its own sympathisers".

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