It was the Supreme Court’s strong observations on the poll panel’s delayed reaction to hate speeches that prompted him to intervene and seek “transparent and time-bound” disposal of Model Code of Conduct (MCC) complaints, Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa told The Indian Express Monday.
On April 15, the apex court had asked the Election Commission (EC) searching questions on action taken against leaders for allegedly provocative speeches during the campaign. Subsequently, the same day, the poll panel issued orders temporarily banning BSP chief Mayawati, SP leader Azam Khan, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union Minister Maneka Gandhi from campaigning for their communal remarks.
Three days later, Lavasa moved a note on strengthening and streamlining procedures of dealing with MCC complaints. And on May 16, he recused from meetings on MCC violations in protest over inaction on his suggestions and his minority decisions going unrecorded in the Commission’s final orders.
Speaking on the eve of the meeting called to discuss his recusal, Lavasa justified his insistence on having his minority view recorded in the Election Commission’s final orders. “If decisions of the Election Commission are taken by majority and you do not include the minority view (in the final order) then what is the point of a minority view?” Lavasa said. “All multi-member and statutory bodies have an established procedure of working. EC is a constitutional body and it should follow that procedure.”
The Indian Express had first reported that Lavasa had, on five occasions, opposed clean chits given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on charges of violating the MCC during their campaign for the Lok Sabha polls.
Responding to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora’s statement calling the controversy over Lavasa’s recusal “ill-timed”, “unsavoury” and avoidable, he said, “All controversies are unsavoury. They seem ill-timed as they pose difficult questions that remain unattended. They can be avoided if decisions and actions affecting the people are perceived as timely, fair and non-discriminatory.”
When asked why he decided to opt out of Commission meetings on MCC matters, he said, “The letter I wrote on the 16th (of May) is a culmination of more than a month’s communication and that process started on April 18. The basic intent of that communication was to strengthen and streamline procedures of dealing with complaints under the Model Code of Conduct. The objective was to make procedures transparent, time-bound and spell out consequences for serious violations. I am not saying that my suggestion is what it ought to be, but it (final decision on the issue) could have been determined through a discussion in the full Commission meeting. A meeting was finally held on May 2, in which it was decided that we all will record our views on the issue on file. I recorded mine on May 4. I sent reminders (for others to do the same) on May 10 and May 14. Since no action was taken on the issue, I decided to stay away from MCC proceedings and meetings.”
Speaking about his motivation behind writing the note on April 18, he said, “On April 15, Hon’ble Supreme Court had made certain observations (on EC’s disposal of Model Code of Conduct complaints) and the number of undisposed matters were pending had accumulated. I wrote the note because I felt there was a need to systematise disposal of (MCC) complaints.”
When asked why he insisted on having his minority view recorded in MCC orders even though that hasn’t been the practice in the past, he said: “My argument is that whereas Model Code of Conduct is a code, all orders that spell out consequences of a violation are issued under Article 324. By these orders we are restricting someone’s freedom of speech or freedom of movement. Therefore, the Commission should spell out the reasons why a decision was made and if one of the Commissioners doesn’t agree, that person’s view should also be included in the order. The person on whom you are imposing a restriction should know how the decision was made.”
But why insist on having his minority view reflected even in cases related to Modi and Shah which were cleared without finding any violation? “The minority view is important even then as one person does not agree with the closure of a complaint,” he said.
On the criticism that his recusal can be perceived to be obstructionist, he said, “In case the decision is not unanimous, the majority view prevails and is implemented. That keeps the ball rolling.”
Asked if a divided EC gives political parties ammunition to question the poll panel’s credibility, Lavasa said: “I have nothing to do with any individual or any political party. These are procedural changes that should be applied across the board. I would like a process that is transparent and time-bound.”