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Chawla's loo breaks led to Congress phone calls: CEC
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February 02, 2009 16:43 IST

Election Commissioner Navin Chawla's excuses and frequent visits to the washroom whenever crucial decisions were taken by the full bench of the Election Commission, is among the instances cited by the Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami [Images] in his letter to the President recommending the former's removal.

In the report to the President, the CEC notes that whenever the full bench meeting was seized of an issue, Chawla will make an excuse of going to the washroom. And soon thereafter, invariably, the CEC would get phone calls from top Congress functionaries even as the meeting was in progress. This amounted to interference in the functioning of the Election Commission, the CEC felt.

In his report, Gopalaswami also elaborated on the visit of the prime minister's Principal Secretary T K A Nair to Nirvachan Sadan, which houses the Election Commission of India in New Delhi [Images], to enquire about the 'notice' being sent to Congress president Sonia Gandhi [Images] on her receiving an award from Belgium.

Gopalaswami felt that inside deliberations and details of the meetings were invariably being conveyed to a political party.

The CEC has cited 12 instances to conclude that Chawla has not remained impartial in his role as Election Commissioner.

The CEC's letter to the President recommending Chawla's removal is just two pages long, and he has dealt with 12 specific cases of partisanship in another 24 pages and annexed more than 800 pages of the Election Commission minutes, internal correspondence, etc in support of the case he has built up against his colleague.

Sources said Gopalaswami also personally apprised the President, the Cabinet Secretary and the PM's principal secretary about Chawla's misconduct with the staff to assert that he is not fit to continue in the Election Commission.

The CEC has conveyed to top government functionaries the complaints of two deputy election commissioners in this regard. Rajashri Bhattacharya, a 1979 batch IAS officer of the Andhra cadre, had even complained to the Cabinet Secretary that Chawla had abused him and threatened to get him arrested. Bhattacharya has since moved to the Planning Commission. R Balasubramanian, an Orissa cadre IAS officer, is the other deputy election commissioner who complained to the CEC in writing against Chawla.

The CEC also received a complaint that Chawla went out of his way to help a pandal owner during the recent Delhi assembly elections by calling up electoral officers to hire material from him.

Though Gopalaswami has not identified the Congress leaders prompted by Chawla to call up and interfere in the Election Commission's functioning in his report to the President, he has named T K A Nair as having visited him.

Gopalaswami says Nair tried to scuttle the notice against the Congress president, pleading that the prime minister has already examined the matter and found that there was no case against Sonia Gandhi. After five months of deliberations, the Election Commission decided to serve notice on Sonia Gandhi. She replied but the Election Commission is not able to firm up its views since Chawla is dragging his feet in submitting his comments, the CEC's report says.

The CEC's report says irrespective of whether Chawla consents to a decision or finds himself singled out by a majority of Gopalaswami and S Y Quraishi, the other Election Commissioner, he appears to be in the habit of conveying all the minutes of their internal meetings to the Congress leadership.

The report mentions the CEC getting a phone call from a top Congress functionary when the Election Commission was debating the possible dates for the Gujarat assembly elections and holding them in three phases as the home ministry was reluctant to provide sufficient central forces to complete it in two phases.

Sources stated that the Congress functionary whom the CEC does not name is none else but Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary, who talked to him in Gujarati, but this could not be confirmed. Gopalaswami, who is a Gujarat cadre IAS officer and speaks Gujarati fluently, countered as to how he learnt about the details when the EC's deliberations were still in progress.

Sources said Ahmed Patel reportedly wriggled out, stating that he got it from a source and assured sufficient central forces to complete the elections in two phases. And in no time the home ministry informed the CEC that central forces can be provided to conduct the polls in two phases and so the elections were held in two phases.

In another instance, Chawla found himself in a minority on holding the Himachal Pradesh [Images] assembly elections ahead of the completion of the five-year term of the present House. Even before the minutes were drawn up, the CEC got a phone call from then chief minister Veerbhadra Singh to defer announcement of the elections. Another senior Congress functionary wanted to meet the EC's full bench to plead against the elections three months ahead of the House term.

Sources identified this functionary as R K Dhawan, a senior Congress Working Committee member, who is very close to the Gandhi family. Again, this could not be confirmed.

Other instances cited by the CEC for removing Chawla include those related to the Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh [Images] assembly elections, Bhagalpur by-election, and the controversial BJP CD case during the Uttar Pradesh elections.

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