Ashok Lavasa, who was appointed Election Commissioner in January, 2018 by the Modi Government, appears to be the latest victim of the Government’s mission witch-hunt, judging by a report in The Indian Express on Tuesday.
The newspaper reported that the Government had written to as many as eleven PSUs to inform if Lavasa, as Union Power Secretary between 2009 and 2013, had unduly influenced any decision, presumably related to purchase and contracts.
The report holds that the letter was sent on August 29 this year and the communication also listed 14 companies in which the Election Commissioner’s wife, Novel Lavasa, a former banker, had served as a director.
Significantly, Novel Lavasa had resigned from State Bank of India in 2005 and became director of several companies.
The question circulating in bureaucratic circles is why the Government had not carried out due diligence while appointing him as Election Commissioner in the first place. Ashok Lavasa retired as Finance Secretary before joining the Election Commission. He is in line to be the Chief Election Commissioner after the present CEC’s term ends in April, 2021. Ashok Lavasa’s term in the Commission ends in October, 2022.
Earlier this year the Income Tax Department served notices to Novel Lavasa after investigating her Income Tax Returns for possible discrepancies.
The witch-hunt is likely to be related to Lavasa’s dissenting opinion during the campaign for the General Election this year. He had differed with the two other Commissioners including the Chief Election Commissioner in giving a clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah on complaints related to violations of the Election Code of Conduct.
He had also stated publicly that his dissenting opinion should be recorded in the final order. If the decisions were to be taken by the majority, he argued, the minority opinion should also be placed on record. Otherwise there would be no sense in dissenting.
His plea was brushed aside by the Election Commission and his dissenting opinion was not taken on record. Lavasa had then recused from attending meetings of the Election Commissioners. And when the Commission announced the poll dates for assembly election in Jharkhand next month, he was again conspicuous by his absence.
The Government’s witch-hunt, it is believed, is designed to tarnish his reputation and force him to resign; or create a situation in which his chances of becoming the Chief Election Commissioner are effectively blocked.