The Election Commission on Thursday justified the decision to deny permission to Narendra Modi's rally in Varanasi city and came to the defence of the district magistrate whose removal is being demanded by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Addressing a hurriedly called press conference in New Delhi in the wake of protests by the BJP over denial of permission, Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath said the EC was disappointed over questions being raised by BJP leaders over its functioning and "certain harsh and sweeping statements" made.
Sampath said the district magistrate had denied the permission to the rally proposed to be held on Thursday on the "basis of professional advice" and there was no need to "deviate" from it.
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"When the security and suitability issues are involved, the Election Commission naturally will go by the professional advice taken at the district level," said the CEC, flanked by other two election commissioners.
"The competent local authority, the DM and his team, took the decision taking into consideration relevant professional advice on security," he said.
"There is no reason to deviate from the decision taken at the district level, specially when the issue of life and security are concerned," Sampath said, in effect rejecting BJP's demand for removal of the DM who was accused of being partisan.
Asking political parties to "show greater maturity", Sampath said the Election Commission is not afraid of anyone or "any political party" or "any entity" in discharging its duties.
"The Election Commission is the body created under the Constitution and one of the pillars of democracy. The Constitution has given enough power to the commission to perform its duties boldly and impartially," the CEC said.
Sampath said the job of the Election Commission is "challenging" in enforcing electoral law, model code of conduct, judiciously, rigorously and in non-partisan manner.
Dismissing the allegations of the "lack of neutrality", he said, "The EC has satisfaction in the job it has been doing and we will continue to do so to uphold the constitution. The credibility, neutrality and impartiality of EC is a national heritage."
Asked about the demands made by several political parties, including the BJP, for removal of certain returning officers, the CEC said, "We don't transfer officials on small choti, choti (small) complaints. We, however, investigate those complaints at our own level and transfer officials if grievance is true."
Sampath said, the EC has always given "due regard" to the grievances "emanated" from any political party and will continue to do so in future.
Image: Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath