At a time when the credibility of the Election Commission of India is increasingly being questioned, former chief election commissioner Navin Chawla has emphasised upon one reform that could solve the situation—giving the two election commissioners the same protection from removal as the CEC.
Chawla's well-timed book Every Vote Counts comes out on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections. The former CEC relates his own experience as an EC, when the CEC N. Gopalaswami, with whom he had a stormy working relationship, had recommended his removal.
While the CEC can be removed only through impeachment, the commissioners can be removed through an executive decision. Chawla notes that over the years several CECs have written to the government of the day, seeking to insulate the election commissioners from executive interference.
“In view of the imbroglio that arose in my own case, the CEC held that he had the authority under the Constitution to recommend the removal of an election commissioner. When he set this process into motion, a major crisis erupted in the country, with the government (and several legal luminaries) opposing his unilateral action as being bad in law,” writes Chawla. He states that in order to guard against such an eventuality arising in the future, he wrote to prime minister Manmohan Singh on January 22, 2010.
The former CEC points out that the reason for affording protection as enjoyed by a Supreme Court judge to the chief election commissioner was to ensure the independence of the Commission from external pressures. “Therefore, the rationale behind not affording similar protection to other election commissioners is not explicable. The element of 'independence' of the Constitution of the Commission can only be strengthened if the election commissioners are also provided with the same protection as that of the chief election commissioner,” writes Chawla.
Chawla, who was CEC for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, provides an insider's view of the challenges involved in conducting polls in India, with its size, population, geographical diversity and the challenges posed by money and muscle power.
Referring to the EVM controversy, the former CEC recounts how he had to cut short an overseas visit as politicians including L.K. Advani and Subramanian Swamy alleged widespread tampering of the machines in the 2009 elections.
“We now mounted the most in-depth examination of every issue that had been raised. After weeks of intense deliberations with our Experts Committee and the companies' technical experts, the Commission satisfied itself that there could not have been a single credible case in the whole country where a result had been altered as a result of tampering in the manner that had been alleged as either possible or probable,” writes Chawla.
EVERY VOTE COUNTS: THE STORY OF INDIA'S ELECTIONS
Author: Navin Chawla
Publisher: Harper Collins India