No regrets for taking on Chawla, says Gopalaswami (Interview)

April 20th, 2009 - 6:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
New Delhi, April 20 (IANS) Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami Monday exited office after a five-year controversial tenure, saying he did not regret accusing colleague and successor Navin Chawla of being biased to the Congress.

Gopalaswami also said in an interview that he had no plans to enter politics and that he wished the new Election Commission team all the best for the month-long Lok Sabha elections that began April 16.

On Sunday, Gopalaswami locked horns with Election Commissioners Chawla and Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi over Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s civilian honour from the Belgian government. He wanted an Election Commission inquiry that could have disqualified her from contesting the present Lok Sabha polls but was in a minority of one.

His tenure as CEC has often been in the news for the bitter wrangling with Chawla, who takes over from him right in the middle of the five-phased Election 2009.

He was snubbed on both counts. His recommendation to President Pratibha Patil to remove Chawla and his suggestion to his colleagues on Sonia Gandhi were rejected.

But an unperturbed Gopalaswami told IANS: “I have no regrets about airing my views.”

In a detailed chat a few hours before he demitted office, the 1966 Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the Gujarat cadre was relaxed and jovial.

Asked about the hardest or toughest decision he had taken as CEC since assuming office on June 30, 2006, Gopalaswami said: “The hardest thing was signing my final report of leaving.”

He guffawed. But said after a pause that the toughest moment was when a chief minister called to question one of his decisions. “I just told him this is my final decision,” he said, without going into specifics.

On the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rejecting the Election Commission’s suggestion that it should not field Varun Gandhi from Pilibhit after his strident communal campaign, the CEC said: “We tendered an advice and we have no regret of doing so.”

Gopalaswami, a gold medallist postgraduate in chemistry from Delhi University and is a diploma holder in Urban Development Planning from University of London, said he was busy completing work on his last day after 43 years of government service. “This day is like any other day.”

With the second round of general elections only two days away, it was a busy day at the Election Commission. Gopalaswami worked right till 5 p.m., overseeing preparations and holding meetings — except for a brief break to attend a farewell party.

Gopalaswami, however, was emphatic about not joining politics.

“I think the election commissioner should not join any political party. It is not at all my agenda and I have no plans.”

Gopalaswami was clear that he would not write any books on his years as CEC but he would continue to read in his retirement home in Chennai.

“I don’t belong to Chennai. But I am going to settle down there.. I have no intentions of writing any book. Yes, I will read books on the subjects I have great interests on - Sanskrit classics, philosophy.”

Does he have any advice for Navin Chawla, who is going to take charge Tuesday as the new CEC? Gopalaswami said: “All I would say is best wishes for the elections 2009.”

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