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Govt slams CEC
Published on 3 Feb. 2009 12:46 AM IST
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Says Chawla to succeed Gopalaswami The government Monday hit out at Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami for suggesting the sacking of Election Commissioner Navin Chawla and said that Chawla will be the next head of the country’s autonomous poll panel. In an unusually hard-hitting attack on a CEC, Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj imputed political motives to Goapalaswami’s controversial move to ease out Chawla -- a decision hailed by the BJP. Gopalaswami, the minister said, had created an unnecessary controversy and gave enough hints that the government would back Chawla, who the BJP had repeatedly alleged was biased towards the ruling Congress party. “Usne apni budapa kharab kar li (He has sullied himself in his old age),” said Bhardwaj, using strong words against Gopalaswami. The minister’s comments came as the Congress and the BJP traded charges over the row. “The chain of events reflect that there has been a congruence of interest between the CEC and the BJP. Gopalaswami’s action is perpetuated by the BJP,” Congress spokesman Manish Tewari told reporters. The Congress accused the poll panel chief of creating a constitutional crisis. The BJP alleged that there were 12 instances of “biased conduct” by Chawla. It also accused the Congress of trying to destroy the institutional independence of the Election Commission. However, Bhardwaj prefaced his criticism by lauding the Election Commission’s role in conducting free and fair elections in the country. “This (episode) is unfortunate (since it) has come when the Election Commission should have been revising voters’ list and preparing for the (coming) elections,” he said. “(Gopalaswami) should not behave like a political boss.” Bhardwaj said that Gopalaswami’s action should not effect Chawla’s career as appointments in the Election Commission were 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 (in April),” he said. Bhardwaj made it abundantly clear that it was he, as the law minister, who was Gopalaswami’s boss. “It is my ministry which is the administrative ministry of the election department,” he said, adding that Gopalaswami should have consulted the ministry before writing to President Pratibha Patil recommending Chawla’s ouster. “Even his (Gopalaswami’s) leave has to be sanctioned by me.” The law minister insisted that Gopalaswami could not have initiated the step against a colleague on his own -- insinuating that the opposition had a hand in the controversy. “It is the president of India who is the appointing authority of the Chief Election Commissioner and Election Commissioners and only the appointing authority can be the removing authority,” said Bhardwaj.

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