Major political parties remained sharply divided over CEC N Gopalaswami's recommendation to remove Election Commissioner Navin Chawla with the Congress and the CPI-M firmly saying it should be rejected by the government while the BJP pressed for its immediate acceptance.
Attacking Gopalaswami, who demits office in April, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said, "There is remarkable congruence of views between that of the BJP and what it wants and some actions of the Election Commission" in an apparent attempt to turn the tables on BJP which had accused Chawla of bias towards Congress.
On the demand for Chawla's sacking, Singhvi told reporters, "the institution of Election Commission is far bigger than individuals. Everybody will be continuing or retiring as the law mandates."
The CPI-M termed the CEC move as "out of bounds" and demanded that the proposal, which raised suspicion of members "playing politics",be rejected by the government.
"The suo motu recommendation by Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami to remove one of the Election Commissioners Navin Chawla is out of bounds and can only damage the institution of the Election Commission," a CPI(M) Polit Bureau statement said.
Leader of the Opposition and BJP leader L K Advani said the government should accept CEC's proposal without any delay.
"The CEC's recommendation with regard to Navin Chawla be forthwith accepted by government," Advani wrote in his blog.
On behalf of the BJP, party General Secretary Arun Jaitley has rightly argued that the word 'recommendation' used in the second provision of Article 324(3) must be construed as a binding recommendation, Advani said.
RJD supremo Lalu Yadav said in Patna that he is against appointment of retired bureacrats in the Election Commission.
"I am right", Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami said unfazed by the sharp criticism to his recommendation for the removal of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla for "partisan" functioning.
Gopalaswami's January 16 recommendation to President Pratibha Patil that Chawla should be removed for being allegedly biased in favour of Congress has been strongly criticised by noted jurist like Fali Nariman and major political parties except BJP which supported it.
The CEC, whose term ends on April 20, told PTI, "In my mind, I am right".
Gopalaswami pointed out that while the move had been criticised by some jurists, for other leading lawyers like Harish Salve, he was within his Constitutional right to make such a recommendation.
"It is bound to happen. Each person looks at the information he has. For some people, timing is wrong and for others it is not," the CEC said.
Nariman had said "it is most uncalled for and ill-timed. If he (CEC) wanted to give such an opinion, he should have done so earlier".
Former Law Minister Shanti Bhushan echoeing a similar view said, "the CEC has no right to give a view on his own. Appointments and removals are in the government's domain and a view by the CEC is to be given only if his advice is asked for".
Asked about criticism on the timing of his recommendation, barely a few months before his own retirement and the Lok Sabha polls, Gopalaswami defended it and explained that the petition came to him towards the end of January 2008.
'Accept CEC's Proposal Without Any Delay'
Meanwhile LK Advani too has joined the debate. "The Chief Election Commissioner's recommendation with regard to Navin Chawla be forthwith accepted by government," Advani wrote in his blog today.
On behalf of the BJP, party General Secretary, Arun Jaitley has rightly argued that the word 'recommendation' used in the second provision of Article 324(3) must be construed as a binding recommendation, Advani said.
"Jaitley has drawn attention to Article 217 of the Constitution relating to appointment of High Court Judges where the appointment is to be 'after consultation with the Chief Justice', the Chief Justice's views has always been regarded binding," he wrote.
In the context of the current controversy about Navin Chawla, it would be educative to compare Article 124 dealing with the Supreme Court, with Article 324 laying down provisions relating to the Election Commission, he added.
In his write-up, he also recalled his conversation with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in which she termed "the apolitical Indian Army and the Constitutionally independent Election Commission" to be the two most important reasons for India's success as a democracy.
Cong Firm on Chawla continuing as EC
Expectedly, the Congress scoffed at Advani's remarks. "There is remarkable congruence of views between that of the BJP and what it wants and some actions of the Election Commission," Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said, apparently seeking to turn the tables on BJP which had accused Chawla of bias towards Congress.
On the demand for Chawla's sacking, he told reporters, "the institution of Election Commission is far bigger than individuals. Everybody will be continuing or retiring as the law mandates."
Bur BJP's Arun Jaitley dismissed Abhishek Singhvi's allegation by saying that he could counter it simply by bringing the debate down to the level of arguing that there was a remarkable congruence of views between that of the Congress and what it wants and some of the actions of Mr Navin Chawla.