‘CEC had told Chawla a year ago that he should be removed’

By Murali Krishnan, IANS,

New Delhi : The unseemly fracas that has gripped India’s poll panel began a year ago when Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami wrote to fellow member Navin Chawla saying he found his behaviour to be partisan and he should be removed. However, Election Commissioner Chawla, after making some enquiries, wrote back telling the CEC that they shared equal powers in the three-member constitutional body and he had no authority to recommend his removal, said authoritative sources.

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After receiving the letter from Gopalaswami in January last year, Chawla is believed to have initially sought information from both the President’s office and the government to find out whether they had made a reference asking for his removal, the sources revealed.

“After inquiries revealed that neither the president nor the union government had made such a reference, Chawla wrote back to Gopalaswami stating that he had no locus standi to recommend his removal,” sources close to Chawla told IANS.

“He (Chawla) too is a constitutional figure and powers are equal among the three-member poll panel. The CEC is the first among equals with certain leadership and administrative responsibilities. That is all,” the sources, who did not wish to be identified, said.

Chawla wrote back to the CEC’s letter only in July.

“The reason why Chawla took six months to reply to Gopalaswami’s letter is because he wanted to ascertain whether the letter had any backing. He replied by the end of July.”

However, Gopalaswami went ahead and wrote to the president recommending Chawla’s ouster. Chawla has maintained that there is no question of his resigning.

Gopalaswami’s 90-page report submitted to President Patil last month that was subsequently handed to the government details instances of Chawla’s alleged partisan behaviour since he joined the Election Commission in May 2005.

A 1969 batch IAS officer, Chawla was the former information and broadcasting secretary who has also authored a biography of Mother Teresa and worked closely with her.

Chawla, the seniormost among the two election commissioners, is expected to succeed Gopalaswami as CEC when his term ends on April 20. The other election commissioner is S.Y. Qureshi.