Govt making ECI 'subservient tool': Former CECs, Oppn leaders slam PMO's 'informal interaction' with ECs
With assembly elections in five states drawing nearer, the meeting could raise doubts on the impartial and neutral approach of the Election Commission, the former CECs opined
A major controversy erupted when Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and fellow Commissioners Rajiv Kumar and Anoop Chandra Pandey recently held an "informal interaction" with the Prime Minister's Office to bridge gaps in understanding of key electoral reforms between the poll panel and the Law Ministry. But EC sources however insisted on Friday that the question of propriety of the meting does not arise in doing so.
The commission had been pushing for reforms in electoral laws and related issues, and the virtual interaction in November was held to "bridge the gaps in understanding the points of views of the Law Ministry and the Election Commission (EC)", they said.
The sources said amid a series of correspondence between the government and the poll panel on electoral reforms, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) took the lead in organising the "informal interaction" with the three commissioners.
Responding to the news report about the informal meeting between the PMO and the Election Commissioners, former chief election commissioner (CEC) S Y Quraishi said it was "absolutely shocking". The Indian Express quoted the former chief election commissioner as saying, "This is unacceptable with any explanation. Would the government call the Chief Justice of India along with all other Supreme Court judges for a discussion on judicial reforms? That’s the only analogy that applies in this case. So why call the (Election) Commission for a meeting? Even the Prime Minister cannot call the CEC for a meeting.”
Another former CEC told Indian Express on condition of anonymity that this meeting with the PMO was "100% avoidable".
Another former CEC, T S Krishnamurthy was quoted by the web site as saying, " All I can say is that Election Commissioners are not required to attend any meeting convened by officials, having regard to its Constitutional status. Of course, clarifications, if required by the government, can be sought from the ECI in writing, for which responses can be given in writing.”
With assembly elections in five states drawing nearer, the meeting could raise doubts on the impartial and neutral approach of the Election Commission, the former CECs opined.
Opposition leaders also attacked the Modi government on the report that Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra and the two Election Commissioners, Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey, held an online “interaction” called by the Prime Minister’s Office on November 16 despite reservations. The Congress on Friday hit out at the government, alleging that it was treating the Election Commission as its "subservient tool".
Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala charged that the government has fallen to a new low in destroying institutions in the country.
Citing reports that a Law Ministry official had sought the presence of the Chief Election Commissioner and ECs at a meeting with the PM's principal secretary, the Congress leader said this "was unheard of in independent India".
"Cat is out of the bag! What was whispered till now is a fact. PMO summoning ECI was unheard of in independent India. Treating EC as a subservient tool is yet another low in Modi Government's record of destroying every institution," Surjewala said on Twitter tagging news reports in this regard.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge speaking to the Indian Express, raised questions about the impartiality of the coming elections. “They (the PMO) can’t say like that. The EC is supposed to be independent… not supposed to be, it is an independent body… How can they call the EC? Then how can we expect that the elections will be impartial? Elections are coming in five states… And how can we expect that we will get justice in all the forthcoming elections?” the Congress leader said.
“Written letters have been sent to the EC to be part of the deliberations of the PMO. This is unheard of in the history of India. Earlier also we came across instances where the independence of the EC was compromised and the government tampered with the EC. It is very clear that this government is bent upon crippling all institutions in this country, especially the EC, which has overriding impact on elections and democratic system of this country,” said CPM Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas said.
“How can the PMO summon an independent Constitutional authority? One mandated to conduct free and fair elections? Worse how could the EC be so servile & attend? ? over ECs neutrality & fairness,” CPM leader Sitaram Yechury tweeted.
The sources said senior EC officials attended the formal meeting, besides officials from the Law Ministry.
The Legislative Department in the Law Ministry is the nodal agency for EC-related matters. Usually, law ministers and legislative secretaries have been meeting the commissioners on various issues at the Nirvachan Sadan. The commissioners never call on the ministers as part of protocol since the EC is an independent Constitutional body.
With PTI inputs