Updated: December 18, 2021 8:40:19 am
OPPOSITION leaders cutting across party lines Friday criticised the BJP government at the Centre over The Indian Express report that Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sushil Chandra and the two Election Commissioners, Rajiv Kumar and Anup Chandra Pandey, joined an online “interaction” called by the Prime Minister’s Office on November 16 despite reservations.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge raised questions about the impartiality of the coming elections. “The EC is supposed to be independent. How can they call the EC? Then how can we expect that the elections will be impartial?… How can we expect that we will get justice in the forthcoming elections?” the Congress leader said.
The interaction took place a day after the EC received an unusually worded letter from an official of the Law Ministry – the administrative Ministry of the poll panel – that Principal Secretary to PM P K Mishra will “chair a meeting” on a common electoral roll and “expects CEC” to be present.
While Chandra and the other two Commissioners stayed away from the video meeting — in which their subordinates were present – the three did join an “informal interaction” with Mishra immediately thereafter.
In Lok Sabha, Congress MP Manish Tewari submitted a notice for adjournment of all business to discuss “the issue of grave concern”. In his notice, Tewari said the interaction “raises serious questions of propriety and autonomy of the Election Commission and the independence of the institutions that uphold the democratic edifice of India”.
Tewari told The Indian Express that he flagged that “the autonomy of the institutions has been compromised”.
Other parties, including the Trinamool Congress, DMK, RJD, BSP, SP and the CPM also questioned the government.
TMC Rajya Sabha MP Jawhar Sircar said the interaction was “not appropriate”. “The EC has been given powers under the Constitution to be insulated from external pressures. I don’t think the EC has ever gone to the PMO to meet them. The PMO also should never have called the EC… It is like the Ministry of Law and Justice summoning the Chief Justice… And if the Chief Justice himself goes that is also improper. The whole thing is improper.” Like justice, Sircar said, propriety can’t “just be maintained, it must be seen to be maintained.”
CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury called what had happened “atrocious”. “How can the PMO summon an independent Constitutional authority, one which is mandated to conduct free and fair elections? Worse, how could the EC be so servile and attend?”
His party’s Rajya Sabha MP John Brittas said the report was “an eyeopener” on how this government is “tampering” with independent institutions like the EC. “Earlier also we came across instances where the independence of the EC was compromised… It is very clear that this government is bent upon crippling all institutions in this country, especially the EC,” Brittas said.
DMK leader Tiruchi Siva said: “We have been insisting for long that constitutional authorities, independent autonomous bodies, should never yield to the government’s pressure… That is the reason why they have been given all these powers. This government, after coming to power, is using all these institutions for their whims and fancies.”
On the coming elections, Siva said the question of impartiality regarding elections “always is there”.
Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox
Accusing the government of “destroying the independence of every institution”, such as the CBI, CVC, ED, Kharge pointed out that as per protocol, officers can go to the EC if they want opinion on some issue, but not the other way round. “Many times, we have also gone. We have explained about EVMs or problems in elections. You cannot degrade an institution.”
RJD leader Manoj Jha said: “The sanctity of our democracy rests on a clear division of powers between various institutions. The pervasive BJP government has flouted all democratic norms… The interference of the government in the Election Commission marks a new low, that too, when the nation is celebrating the 75th year of our independence… The language used in the letter gives an insight into how the PMO treats independent bodies… This is shocking but not surprising.”
Ritesh Pandey, BSP leader in the Lok Sabha, said the Supreme Court should look into the matter given its 1995 judgment on independence of the EC and the importance of insulating it from the Executive. Demanding that the “unedited minutes” of the meeting between the EC and PMO be made available for public scrutiny, Pandey said: “While the CEC and ECs declined to be present in the video conference for which they were highly improperly ‘expected’ by the PMO, their ‘informal’ meeting raises questions of impropriety at a time when multiple states are going to polls.”
Another BSP MP, Kunwar Danish Ali, said, said the government could have written to the EC and conveyed its arguments on the proposed electoral reforms and the latter could have called an all-party meeting. “I remember, once a parliamentary Standing Committee discussed calling the Election Commissioners but we were told that even the Standing Committee cannot call them,” he said.
Samajwadi Party spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary said his party will seek more details about the EC’s “interaction” with the PMO. “We have been demanding from the beginning that it is the responsibility of the Election Commission to conduct polls impartially,” he said.
Calling the interaction “patently improper” AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi tweeted that, as an independent institution, the EC was not answerable to the government.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.