Navin Chawla to be next CEC, president refuses to axe him (Roundup)

March 1st, 2009 - 7:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilNew Delhi, March 1 (IANS) Navin Chawla is set to preside over the upcoming Lok Sabha elections with President Pratibha Patil Sunday rejecting Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N. Gopalaswami’s recommendation to remove him.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the president’s decision “unfortunate” while the Congress said it was “natural” and that the CEC’s suggestion was “whimsical”.

Gopalaswami retires April 20 and Chawla, being the next seniormost election commissioner, will preside over the parliamentary polls expected to be held in April-May. The timeline for the polls is likely to be announced shortly.

The CEC had written to the president in January to remove Chawla, triggering an unseemly fracas in the constitutional panel and a bitter war of words between the Congress-led government and the BJP.

The BJP had then said Chawla must be sacked since he was always partial. The Congress countered it, saying the opposition party was politicising the issue ahead of the polls.

Archana Dutta, officer on special duty in Rashtrapati Bhawan, said the president has taken the decision “after careful consideration” of various aspects, including a report submitted by Gopalaswami seeking Chawla’s removal on grounds of bias.

“The president, after careful consideration of the report of the CEC, government recommendations, constitutional provisions and Supreme Court judgments, has arrived at a considered opinion and has accepted the recommendation of the government (to reject Gopalaswami’s suggestion),” Dutta told IANS.

The BJP described the president’s decision as disappointing. “It is very unfortunate,” party vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told IANS.

“When the elections are around, the commission should be non-partisan since people expect the exercise to be free and fair,” he said.

The president’s decision “is disappointing and it is not a good sign”, Naqvi added.

The Congress said “it is natural” that the suggestion would be rejected. “The CEC’s recommendation was whimsical,” senior Congress leader M. Veerappa Moily told IANS.

He said: “The CEC should have applied his mind before suggesting like this, particularly when he is retiring and the elections are around. It doesn’t send a positive message.”

A similar reaction came from the Communist Party of India-Marxist. “One thing is clear that the CEC was taking a political decision. In my opinion, the president has taken a right decision,” said CPI-M politburo member M.K. Pandhe.

The issue dates back to March 2006 when senior BJP leader L.K. Advani and 204 MPs submitted a petition to then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam seeking Chawla’s removal.

The petition was sent to the Congress-led government, which saw no merit in it.

The BJP dragged the issue to the Supreme Court but the petition was withdrawn in August 2007.

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