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Law ministry releases Gopalaswami's letter seeking Chawla's ouster

By Abhishek Shukla
February 07, 2010 17:29 IST
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In a curious case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, the Law Ministry has released the letter written by former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami to the President seeking removal of fellow Election Commissioner Navin Chawla while the Rashtrapati Bhawan had declined to make the document public.

The appellate authority under the Right to Information Act in the Law Ministry allowed the request of one S S Ranawat, a resident of Bhilwara in Rajasthan, for the unprecedented recommendation made by Gopalaswami in January last year. The Rashtrapati Bhawan had cited Chawla's opposition to the disclosure as a reason for not making it public. In his 93-page report, Gopalaswami had cited several instances of "partisan behaviour" on the part of Chawla who had shown "lack of political neutrality".

Acting on a petition filed by Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani and 179 other Members of Parliament who had levelled accusations of "political partisanship", the then CEC had contended that he had powers under the Constitution to recommend Chawla's removal. The government, however, rejected it and appointed Chawla as CEC. In this regard, Gopalaswami cited Chawla's own notings on another occasion that the CEC had the power to make such a recommendation.
     

In the recommendation to the President, the then CEC had said he had concluded that "significant facts" and "irresistible conclusions" from the report submitted by him were crucial in adjudging the suitability of Chawla as election commissioner. He said in his considered opinion, Chawla's continuance as election commissioner was "not justified". "My recommendation is, therefore, under the powers vested in me under the second proviso to Article 324(5) of the Constitution, is to remove Shri Navin B Chawla from the post of Election Commissioner," Gopalaswami had said in his January 16, 2009 letter, months before the general elections during which he demitted office.
      
Referring to 12 instances cited by him, he said, "Taken individually (they) appear to indicate Shri Chawla's political partisanship. Collectively, they point to a continuity of consistent thought and action in furthering the interest of one party with which he appeared to be in constant touch raising serious doubts about his political detachment. "Further, it was not only that he appeared to be lacking in political neutrality but more pernicious were his attempts to influence Election Commissioner Dr Quraishi, not by dint of valid arguments, but by spreading stories that Dr Quraishi was supporting the opposite views." 
     

On many occasions, Gopalaswami said Quraishi had confided that he was under pressure as for instance when he was in favour of elections being held in Karnataka on time and wanted the electoral

rolls to be prepared for the new constituencies using the 'cut and paste' method but he did not want his name to be taken because he was under pressure.
     
Quraishi had once shared a comment made by Chawla to him 'they are angry with you not so much because you were
instrumental in Sonia Gandhi getting a notice from ECI on her birthday (reference to the notice on the maut ka saudagar
remarks) but for the fact that you sided with the CEC in advancing the elections in Himachal Pradesh'.
     
Such pressure tactics, Gopalaswami said did not augur well with the EC because the independence and neutrality of
the members can be jeopardised by subjecting them to mental pressure and pressure from other vested interests. "Such an approach would strike at the very foundation of the Election Commission as a neutral body," he said.
      
The then CEC said the fact that merited mention here was that from time to time he had taken care to apprise some
select people of these happenings lest they may be labelled as an afterthought. In regard to the incident of UP elections announcement in 2007 when Chawla wanted deferring the announcement anticipating imposition of President's rule, which was being demanded by Congress, the matter was then brought to the notice of then President Abdul Kalam. 
     

Gopalaswami said these instances had been mentioned to his immediate predecessors J M Lyngdoh and B B Tandon and a
retired Gujarat IAS official."It is also necessary to record here that prior to May 2005 in the one year and three months of my experience as Election Commissioner, there was not even one single incident in which there was any remotely partisan view expressed by any Commissioner on any occasion when the general election to the Parliament 2004 and election to the Legislative assemblies of Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Bihar (2005) were conducted.
     
"In the light of the above it would be appropriate to say that the impression of political neutrality of Shri Navin Chawla, Election Commissioner, appear to be well founded as evidenced by his conduct on the occasions cited in Part IV A and Part IV B which the undersigned experienced in the past three and a half years. "His present conduct seems a part of a continuum of the conduct he had exhibited, of closeness to a certain political formation, during the emergency a little over 30 years ago and more recently, prior to his appointment as EC, when he received donations for the trusts which he and his family members ran, to the period of the last three and a half years in the Election Commission".
     
Gopalaswami said these would certainly be significant factors in deciding his continuance in the post of an Election
Commissioner. These would equally be significant in determining his suitability to the office of the CEC too.

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Abhishek Shukla in New Delhi
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