Alleging that the Chief Election Commissioner's controversial recommendation for removal of his colleague has eroded the credibility of the poll body, the Communist Party of India-Marxist on Friday claimed the CEC himself has violated the independence of the Election Commission.
Referring to CEC N Gopalaswami's affidavit in the Supreme Court claiming powers to recommend the removal of an election commissioner suo motu under Article 324 of the Constitution, party Politburo member Sitaram Yechury said, "this is a strange interpretation of the Article".
After Navin Chawla was appointed the Election Commissioner, the BJP first submitted a petition to the President questioning the appointment on grounds of political bias.
"It later filed the same in the Supreme Court, withdrew and subsequently submitted the same to the CEC in January last
year," Yechury said in an editorial in the latest issue of party organ People's Democracy.
"While the petition was with the Supreme Court, the CEC had filed an affidavit claiming the power to recommend the
removal of an election commissioner suo motu under Article 324 of the Constitution," Yechury said.
Maintaining that the Constitution empowered the President to appoint the CEC on the recommendation of the government, Yechury said the CEC cannot be removed except by impeachment by the Parliament like Supreme Court judges. Similar was the case for the ECs who cannot be removed except on the CEC's pleasure, Yechury said.
"Conventional wisdom has so far interpreted this to mean that since the Election Commissioners are also appointed by the President, the CEC's recommendations come into play only when the proposal for the removal comes from the President. This was meant to protect the independence and integrity of the Election Commission against the whims of the political executive who may seek the removal of a particular commissioner on political grounds.In no case is the power of such a recommendation by the CEC a suo motu expression. By invoking such a claim, this check on the executive's power and maintaining the independence of the Election Commission is being violated by the CEC himself," Yechury alleged.
Gopalaswami's recommendation for removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla "on grounds of bias has eroded the institutional credibility of the Election Commission by raising the question of integrity of its members and also
regarding its collective functioning," he said.
The recommendation "becomes all the more suspect as it comes both on the eve of his retirement on April 20 and on the eve of the 15th general elections scheduled for April-May, 2009," Yechury said, underlining the "urgent need" to reform the EC through legislative action.
He also alleged that several of the Election Commission's decisions and directives in the past had not only encroached
upon the powers of the executive and legislature, but could have upset federal sensitivities as well.