Monday, March 2, 2009

NAVEEN CHAWLA STAYS; ANOTHER INSTITUTION GOES

No matter that more than 90% Indians believe that political loyalties are destroying institutions, no matter what examples need to be set by those who lead, no matter what impact its actions may have on the very fundamentals of the election process, the government of the day has once again told the nation that it will try every dirty trick in the book to get back into power, even if that means subverting the democratic will of the people.

Election Commissione (EC) Naveen Chawla, believed to be close to the Congress High Command since the days of the infamous Emergency, stays. Serious charges leveled against him by Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) N Gopalaswami and his recommendation to remove him have been rejected by the "government". The carefully chosen President of the country has also quietly signed where asked, as expected. One more institution goes.

It is one man's word against another, says the "government", adding that it is unbecoming on part of a constitutional authority (read CEC) to behave in such a manner. The "government" has found nothing substantial in the letter of the CEC has and said that events that took place within the four walls of the Election Commission cannot be independently verified. Who is this so-called "government"? It is no more than a political entity about to go into general elections. It is a political entity that Naveen Chawla has been accused of blatantly favouring as EC even though he is required to be completely neutral. And this charge has not materialised suddenly out of thin air. It has been made against him almost since the day he was hand picked by this very political entity that knew that he would be CEC at the time of the elections.

Let us be clear about one basic fact. As far as the conduct of elections are concerned, the government is no different from other political parties and cannot enjoy an unquestioned status above above the Election Commission. It is an interested and affected party as are all others. Therefore, legalities apart, if it appoints an Election Commissioner who is widely viewed to be openly biased towards it, it is a matter of serious concern. On top of it , if the CEC, who has till now not given a whiff of being anything but absolutely fair and neutral, levels serious charges against him on that very ground and recommends his removal, then the "government" really has no moral and ethical locus standi to sit in judgment on it.

It as if a co-accused is hearing his own case as a judge and declaring himself and the main accused innocent!

As per a news report, Naveen Chawla has already started the pay back to the Congress. Last week, in the middle of the hectic work in the Election Commission, he suddenly took two days leave. Due to this, the announcement of the Lok Sabha election schedule which was to be made on Sunday has been delayed. There is speculation that Chawla was biding for more time to give the government additional time to carry on with the massive advertisement campaign it has launched with tax payers' money, before the model code of conduct comes into force on the announcement of the poll schedule.

No one can "prove" that Chawla took leave to help the Congress, just as no can prove the many charges that have been labeled against him about what he has done before and after becoming EC, including what he did during the Emergency, for which he was later recommended to be dismissed from service. But that there is so much of smoke and there are so many doubts about his impartiality cannot simply be brushed away by the government. If Chawla appears to be like an umpire who can make some old Pakistani cricket umpires look like angels, then it is only a desperate, valueless and immoral dispensation that will keep him and destroy the game.

Better should not have been expected from the Congress. It has long given up the spirit and practice of democracy. In 1975, Indira Gandhi first displayed her utter contempt for both judicial and democratic processes when she found herself unable to democratically face and respond to the challenges that she faced. She subverted both by imposing the Emergency and amending the constitution. From then on, at every possible opportunity, the party has only destroyed institutions and set in a political rot that has now spread across the political spectrum. That mindset has not changed at all, despite the Emergency experience. That is why even within the Congress, inner party democracy has been completely destroyed and the party now is little more than a fan club meant solely to protect and project its first family.

The retention of Naveen Chawla as EC and his expected ascension as CEC in April means that one more institution of India's democracy has been sacrificed at the altar of political greed and dishonesty. It remains to be seen whether this day light murder in this information age will yield dividends for the Congress in the coming elections. Will Naveen Chawla's assistance be enough to overcome the negative impact of his retention on the minds of informed voters or will those who care about democracy and its institutions be able to still teach our politicians a real lesson?
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1. Election commissioners and Caeser's wife
2. Elections 2009: Sangh parivar or Cong family?