In an attempt to deflect the huge controversy over an official summoning the full EC for a meeting with the PMO and thus undermining the constitutional independence granted to the Election commission, the law ministry has clarified that the letter was written to the cabinet secretary, the law secretary and the legislative secretary for a meeting on common electoral rolls.
The Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra and other two commissioners, Rajiv Kumar and Anup Kumar Pandey participated in the virtual meeting chaired by Principal Secretary to Prime Minister PK Mishra despite expressing displeasure about the tone and tenor of the letter, which had said ” expects CEC to be present during the conference”
It must be noted that apart from accusations of trampling the constitutional independence of the ECI, the established bureaucratic protocol also puts the Principal Secretary to the Prime minister at 23rd position whereas CEC is at 9th.
The wording of the letter addressed to an independent constitutional authority several pointed out, was showcasing arrogance of the highest nature by the executive wing and a further attempt to weaken the constitutional framework which is safeguarding the balance of democracy in our country.
The controversy got traction also because there was a separate informal interaction after the official meeting. Though, the law ministry has clarified that ” it may be noted that the discussion was held together with all three Commissioners of ECI, and virtually”, the impropriety of having an informal discussion with ECI which was summoned was not lost to anyone, especially in the context of upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh where stakes are incredibly high for the Government in power in the run-up for it’s reelection bid in Loksabha Elections to be held in 2024.
Several previous Elections Commissioners termed the treatment meted out to the ECI unacceptable. Some saw it as a deliberate attempt to undermine the authority of the election commission and a sign of the times we live in where the prime minister’s office hover over all other institutions of democracy, dwarfing all.
independent and constitutionally protected from the diktats of the government, the office of the election commissioner is India’s pride and one of the few remaining shining examples of democracy. Once irrelevant, it was brought to life by late TN Shesan in the nineties who is considered the epitome of an officer with a spine of steel and the immense scope to which a bureaucrat aware of his constitutional powers and duties can go for serving the nation.
An election commissioner is expected to be independent, neutral and distant from the Government and necessary for free, fair and credible elections in India. Former CEC S Y Quraishi has written that “( the summoning) is in violation of the constitutional spirit, irrespective of how important or urgent the issue” adding that ” Let alone the PS to the PM, even the mighty PM himself cannot indulge in this unacceptable act.” He said the summoning is as serious as the contempt of court that would have entailed if summon was issued to the CJI to come with a full bench and discuss judicial reforms. Summoning the full bench of ECI was akin to the same, he said.