Bhardwaj Hints at Chawla Becoming Next CEC

New Delhi
Bhardwaj Hints at Chawla Becoming Next CEC
Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj said that CEC N. Gopalaswami "does not have the authority to comment upon his own colleague as they are all equals"
Bhardwaj Hints at Chawla Becoming Next CEC
The government on Monday ticked off Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N Gopalaswami for seeking removal of his colleague Navin Chawla, saying he is not the "political boss" and hinted at Chawla becoming the next CEC in April.

"Gopalaswami should do his work in EC and not become a political boss," Law Minister H R Bhardwaj said on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi.

The CEC controversy continued to generate political heat with the Government and Congress party attacking the CEC for recommending to the President removal of Chawla. Gopalaswami had sought Chawla's removal accusing him of being partisan.

"The CEC has no Constitutional authority to embarrass or comment upon his own colleague because they are all equals. He is only the administrative head of the Election Commission and he is not the boss," the minister later told reporters.

Bhardwaj said the policy of having the senior-most in the Election Commission as the successor will continue, indicating the likelihood of Chawla getting to the key slot when Gopalaswami's tenure comes to an end on April 20.

Describing the present controversy as "unfortunate", Bhardwaj said it should not effect Chawla's career as appointments in the Election Commission are based on merit.

"We will begin the process to put in place a new CEC well in time" so that the name of Gopalaswami's successor is clear before he retires,” he said.

Congress spokespersons Abhishek Singhvi and Manish Tiwari said the CEC has no unilateral power to recommend removal of an Election Commissioner. The CEC does not enjoy a "status superior to that of the Election Commissioner," Tiwari said.

The rift in the Election Commission also set off a war of words between the Congress, which saw motives in the timing of Gopalaswami's move, and the BJP supporting him.

Hitting out at Bhardwaj, BJP party spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad said "nothing better could be expected from the Law Minister" since his ministry was already "advising" Chawla for the last so many months.

When cogent reasons for bias has been given, instead of addressing the issue, Government is attributing motive on the part of the CEC which is "grossly unfair", Prasad said.

Rebutting BJP's contention, Bhardwaj said the CEC's authority flows from the President and if the President asks for his opinion, only then he can given.

"If he (president) does not ask, how can he (CEC) do so?" he asked.

"It is unfortunate that a person of such high rank and at the end of his office has made such a recommendation and, thus, troubled the good name of the Election Commission," Bhardwaj said.

Noting that the country was moving towards the general election, he said the main work of the EC was to prepare voters' list. "It is unfortunate that the controversy has been started at such a time," he said.

The Law Minister said the President is the appointing and the removing authority for Election Commissioner members under the Constitution. "The role of CEC is as a measure of protection, if the government wants to remove an Election Commissioner, then CEC's opinion is sought," he said.

He also said the file relating to the CEC's recommendation reached his office two days back and Law Secretary T K Viswanathan is studying it.

The law ministry is the agency through which all transactions of the Election Commission are carried out. If there is any letter by the CEC, it is supposed to be routed through the ministry, Bhardwaj said holding Gopalaswami's action as improper.

"Without the impeachment in Parliament, the CEC cannot be removed...But if the government wants to remove any election commissioner then the ministry can approach the CEC," he said.

"It is a security of tenure enjoyed by election commissioners that they are protected against the arbitrary acts of the government and it is a protection to them and not an authority to the CEC that he can get rid of his colleagues by this method," Bhardwaj said.

There have been instances of differences among Election Commissioners. There are bound to be differences and what they do within themselves, I am not bothered, Bhardwaj said.

Bhardwaj added that Gopalaswami has no primacy over his colleagues.

"He is the first among equals and they are all equals like the Chief Justice of India. Do you think he (CJI) is the boss of other judges. When they sit in the court they are three and CJI can be over-ruled by a majority of two.

"Similarly, in this EC also if his colleagues overrule him then the CEC will be in a minority, he has no overwhelming Veto," he said.

Asked about the next course of action in the matter, Bhardwaj said Navin Chawla is the senior most member of the EC... I will not hesitate in performing my duty to process the appointment of the next CEC on the precedents as are prevalent today, that is, the senior most EC gets it unless he is otherwise deprived of it.

We have to complete the three-member strength of the EC and one more proposal will be sent to add the third one, Bhardwaj said elaborating on the future configuration of the Election Commission after the CEC retires on April 20.
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