Split poll panel rejects plea to disqualify Sonia (Lead)

April 19th, 2009 - 11:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) The Election Commission has dismissed a plea, albeit through a split verdict, to divest Congress president Sonia Gandhi of the Lok Sabha membership for accepting a foreign award.
Poll panel sources said Sunday the commission recently sent to President Pratibha Patil its split verdict on a Kerala advocate’s plea seeking Gandhi’s disqualification as parliament member.

They said while incumbent Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, who is due to demit his office Monday, was in favour of a further inquiry, the two Election Commissioners had a different opinion.

Election Commissioner Navin Chawla, who is to succeed Gopalaswami as poll panel’s chief Tuesday, along with Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi favoured dismissing the advocate’s plea in view of Gandhi’s reply to poll panel’s notice on Kochi advocate P. Rajan’s plea seeking her disqualification for accepting the foreign award.

If there are differences of opinion among the three members of the commission, the majority view prevails.

When contacted, Gopalaswami refused to talk on the matter. “No comments,” he told IANS Sunday.

Advocate Rajan had petitioned then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam soon after Gandhi had received the award, ‘Order of Leopold’, from the Belgium king in November 2006 and Kalam in turn had referred the petition to the poll panel.

Rajan had sought Gandhi’s disqualification contending that she has attracted disqualification under the provisions of Article 102 (1) (d) of the constitution for being “under any acknowledgment of allegiance or adherence to a foreign state”.

The poll panel had subsequently issued notice to Gandhi in February 2008, more than a year after receiving the advocate’s complaint from Rashtrapati Bhawan.

Ironically, the commission was divided even on the question of issuing notice to Gandhi with Gopalaswami and Chawla favouring issuance of notice, while Quraishi was opposed to it.

The commission remained divided on yet another aspect related to the plea - whether to ask the external affairs ministry for more information on the award received by Gandhi.

On this count, while Chawla and Quraishi agreed on seeking further details from the ministry, Gopalaswami opposed.

The Congress has welcomed the poll panel decision.

“Obviously, the decision is just and fair on the merit. There was no credibility to the petition,” Congress spokesperson Ashwani Kumar said.

“And we hope that such petitions will not be entertained in future to descredit the national leaders of such stature,” he told IANS.

Senior Congress leader and Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said: “We haven’t been given any notice, therefore, there is no question of an explanation. The Election Commission has said itself that there is no need for any enquiry. So we have nothing to say. We welcome the decision.”

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