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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

5 Questions: The CEC, ECs interaction with PMO ‘totally inappropriate’, says Shashi Tharoor

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor says that it was incumbent on both the sides to act with responsibility.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
Updated: December 17, 2021 10:31:17 pm
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor at Parliament during the Winter Session, in New Delhi. (PTI)

The Opposition on Friday raised the issue of “autonomy of institutions being compromised” under the BJP-led government, in the backdrop of 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. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tells The Indian Express that it was incumbent on both the sides to act with responsibility.

The CEC and the ECs, despite expressing reservations, joined an online “interaction” called by the PMO. What’s your take on it?

First of all, it’s totally inappropriate. Just imagine the same message had been sent to the Supreme Court, telling the Chief Justice to attend a meeting convened by the principal secretary at the PMO. Would that not have obviously been inappropriate? Well, the Election Commission is equally meant to be an autonomous body and the PMO had absolutely no business to be summoning up in this manner.

Does this not amount to compromising the autonomy of the institution?

Our worry has always been with this government that with its hegemonic ambition of power in this country, all autonomous institutions from the Election Commission to the Reserve Bank of India have been hollowed out by their intrusions into their work. We have seen them passing a law giving themselves the right to set the salaries for the office of the Information Commissions, we have seen them taking incredible intrusive steps on the other autonomous bodies. We already have one or two episodes involving the Election Commission having been perceived to have been behaving not entirely independently. Given all of these, it was incumbent upon the government to act with responsibility and restraint even on such a matter of merely a meeting. It should not have been done in this way. It shows their attitude or assumption of an authority over the Election Commission, which is simply wrong.

The Opposition have earlier raised apprehensions about the EC’s independence and even some doubts about the EVMs. How do you look at the issue now?

It points to the fact there are legitimate concerns. I think it makes it all the more incumbent on both sides to set the matters right. It was important for the PMO not to do such things and it is equally important for the CEC to stand up on the issue of its autonomy and refuse such summons. The EC is not a body that should feel obliged if they are issued summons by the PMO.

Do you think this issue needs to be debated in Parliament?

It is certainly an appropriate matter for us to raise in Parliament. But Parliament has been derailed by the issue of resignation or non-resignation of the MoS, Home. That’s why we have not been able to do it in Parliament. But drawing the attention of the nation into this matter is something we should do.

Do you think this could be an issue of priority for the Opposition?

There are many issues that are a matter of priority. A certain culture has evolved in Parliamentary practice over the 25 years that an issue will be judged as important if it’s not allowed to be discussed in the House. The disruption makes it impossible to raise it in Parliament. As a result all these issues are held in abeyance. We have a number of issues of national importance like price rise to discuss. That’s why I personally stood for as much discussion as possible. But when the Opposition parties unitedly take a stand, we all go along.

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