Rifts in the poll panel ‘nothing new’, says Gopalaswami (Lead)

April 21st, 2009 - 6:33 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha Patil New Delhi, April 21 (IANS) Bureaucrats don’t need to resign when their recommendations get rejected, former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami said Tuesday, a day after demitting office following a controversial three-year tenure as head of the poll panel.
He was addressing reporters on a wide range of subjects, including on the need to improve the postal ballot system for defence personnel.

Asked why he didn’t resign when his recommendation to remove Navin Chawla, the new head of the poll panel, was rejected, Gopalaswami said: “As bureaucrats, we send thousands of files. Some get accepted, some don’t. If we resign after every recommendation that has not been accepted, then there will not be one secretary left in the government of India.”

Interacting with members of the Indian Women’s Press Corp, a day after he retired as the chief election commissioner, Gopalaswami said “a lot more abuse” was being seen in this election as compared to 2004.

Gopalaswami, who served on the poll panel for five years, of which he headed it for three years till his retirement Monday, has often been in the news for his bitter wrangling with Chawla.

The former chief election commissioner had recommended to President Pratibha Patil that Chawla be removed because of his partial attitude towards the Congress, but his recommendation was rejected.

Refuting that this was the first time that rifts in the Election Commission had come out in the open, Gopalaswami retorted: “What about during Seshan’s time?”.

“I am saying that there was something like this in the past. So this is nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.

On the issue of why the Election Commission did not send CDs showing Pilibhit’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Varun Gandhi making inflammatory remarks for forensic tests, he said: “We would be sitting for an entire lifetime if we had gone into the details.”

Gopalaswami felt that he wanted to do “better” on enrolment of servicemen in voting, but the main obstacle was the failure of the postal ballots to reach the counting centre in time.

“Perhaps, the only way, or one of the ways is that the ballot page goes electronically (to the voter). Of course, the (filled) ballot has to be then posted. I am sure this is one thing commission is working on,” he said.

Referring to issues of concern, Gopalaswami disclosed that there were seven national parties and 49 state parties but about 950 parties in the “other” category.

“We are registering at least three parties every week. And the Election Commission does not have the power to deregister parties.”

Hinting that these “other parties” were a cover for other activities, Gopalaswami narrated the case of a ‘political party’ which was being investigated by the Income Tax department and consequently changed its name.

“There was this party called Parmarth, but it was nothing but swarth (greed)… There always seemed to be one person contributing to the party, so we thought something was fishy.”

The Income Tax department sent its officers and they found “one board, one chair, one table, possibly one telephone and not even one person”.

“All the money they had collected was invested in shares, jewellery etcetera,” said Gopalaswami.

Referring to the money power in force, “In Andhra Pradesh this time, Rs.22 crore has been captured. In Karnataka, Rs.16 crore, whereas in the last assembly elections, Rs.45 crore was caught. If what we catch is five or 10 percent of what is actually spent, then depending on your calculation, the amount of expenditure is Rs.900 crore,” he said.

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