As he prepares to leave his office, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami on Saturday defended his controversial recommendation for the removal of Navin Chawla, who will succeed him on Tuesday and suggested that future appointments of Election Commissioners be made by a collegium and not the government.
Gopalaswami, who will turn 65 on Monday and demit office that day, has no regrets about his recommendation not withstanding some jurists' opinion that it was wrong. In an interview to PTI, he maintained that though all the Election Commissioners were equal in some respects, Constitutionally there was some "difference" in power to the CEC. At the outset, the outgoing CEC said he did not want to discuss the issue relating to Chawla, with whom he had running battle in the three-member body especially on the issue of holding assembly polls in Karnataka last year.
"I do not want to go into the question at all. As far as I am concerned, I made a report. The final authority is with the President. The President has taken the final decision. After that there should be absolutely no discussion at all. Period."
Gopalaswami, who made the unprecedented recommendation for the removal of another Commissioner, was asked if he had the powers to make such a recommendation.
"As far as the legal provision is concerned, I had no doubt at all, notwithstanding some contrary views which came later on. As far as the power of the CEC is concerned, at least I had no doubt at all. This has been confirmed by some jurists also. All that is not an issue anymore," he said. The CEC said he had no bitter feelings against Chawla. "If you are a professional, you take a decision as a professional issue."
On differences in the functioning of the EC, he said the multi-member Commission has had differences in the past too from the days of T N Seshan. "There were differences, but the Commission as a whole functioned efficiently".
To a query whether he would prefer a single-member body or a multi-member body, he said by and large the Commission has functioned successfully as a multi-member body. He felt there would be problems in case a single member body if the incumbent has to demit office in the midst of an election process.
Asked whether the President's decision on Chawla's issue was the final word, Gopalswami said he was not concerned at all whether the issue was over or not. "As far as I am concerned, it is the end of the controversy. My Supreme Court (President) has decided and after Supreme Court decides, you don't go into further enquiry," he said.
To a question whether the President's decision was the last word on the subject because it was based on government's recommendation and somebody could challenge it in the court, Gopalaswami said "I treat it as President's decision and not the government's decision.
"The appointing authority (for the Election Commissioner) is the President and therefore it is the President's decision which is final and it should be given due respect."
Asked whether the new government could reopen the matter or whether a CEC could make a similar recommendation under similar circumstances in the future, he said it was a matter of speculation.
In response to a question whether he has any regrets about his recommendation, Gopalaswami said "I made my report. That is all. If I had anything to regret, I would not have made the report".
To a question whether the CEC was superior to the other Commissioners, he said the question of superiority or inferiority does not arise. "Each one in certain respect is equal. Each one has same power like anybody else in some respects. In some respects, there is Constitutionally what is provided, there is a difference," he said.