New Delhi: Union Law Minister HR Bhardwaj has backed Election Commissioner Navin Chawla in his battle with Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami.
Bhardwaj's statement in support of Chawla and asking Gopalaswami to "do his work in EC and not become a political boss" is a clear indication that the Union Government has decided to reject the CEC's recommendation to President Pratibha Devisingh Patil for the removal of Chawla as the Election Commissioner.
"Gopalaswami should do his work in EC and not become a political boss," Bhardwaj said.
Bhardwaj also said that that after the present Gopalaswami retires on April 20, Chawla will be the CEC as per precedent
He said the government had a policy to have the senior most Election Commissioner as the CEC and "our policy continues to be the same."
Asked if the government had taken any decision on the Chief Election Commissioner's recommendation to remove Chawla, he said "When a decision is taken, we will inform you," adding "the EC's role is to prepare electoral rolls and not to settle scores".
Describing the present controversy as "unfortunate", Bhardwaj said it should not effect Chawla's career as appointments in the Election Commission are based on merit.
"We will begin the process to put in place a new CEC well in time" so that the name of Gopalaswami's successor is clear before he retires, Bhardwaj said.
"It is rather unfortunate that when the country is preparing for General Elections, such a controversy has been sparked off by him (CEC)," Bhardwaj said, clarifying that a suo motu recommendation by the CEC to the President for removal of a commissioner cannot be done.
The CEC has caused "embarrassment" with his comment on his colleague because they (all election commissioners) are equals, he said.
The Election Commission should be preparing the election rolls but it's unfortunate that he (CEC) has sparked off the controversy, he said.
But legal experts are divided over the law Minister's statement targeting the CEC.
Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap said Bhardwaj's's statement against the CEC is unfortunate.
"This is unfortunate that government should pass such comments against the CEC. The CEC is only discharging his duty according to the provisions of the Constitution," said Kashyap.
However, another constitutional expert Shanti Bhushan said that Gopalaswami was handpicked by the previous National Democratic Government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and said Bharadwaj is right.
"Bharadwaj is correct. The powers to remove an election commissioner lie with the government. CEC cannot make a recommendation regarding removal of a fellow member. He can only draw attention to the government," said Bhushan.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) slammed the Congress and said Union Law Minister's statement proves that Navin Chawla has the full backing of the Congress.
"I think this vindicates Gopalaswami's (Chief Election Commissioner) point that Navin Chawla has a political bias which is substantiated by Bharawaj when he tries to pick on the CEC and telling him to stay off the matter. That proves the fact that Chawla is being supported by the Congress party. There are two aspects to it - one is insulting the constitutional head and here is a situation where Congress openly supports Chawla. This is the most dangerous thing happening in the country," BJP Spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.
"We never expected any other comments from the honorable Law Minister and his ministry. Law Ministry has been acting as advisor to Navin Chawla since November. But Bhardwaj knows law. Article 324 clause 5 of the Constitution clearly mentions that Election Commissioner can be removed on recommendation of the CEC. Besides Bharadwaj should comment on the allegations of lack of impartiality put on Chawla," said another BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad.
(With inputs from PTI)