Saturday, January 31, 2009

I was provoked to write this after reading thru the main lead in The Hindu today (January 31, 2009)on Navin Chawla

Chief Election Commissioner, N.Gopalsami, is reported to have recommended to the President, that Navin Chawla be removed as Election Commissioner. In doing so, the CEC has relied on Article 324(5) of the Constitution.

A close scrutiny of the Constitution and Article 324(5) conveys without ambiguity that a recommendation from the CEC is a necessary condition to remove an Election Commissioner. It is, however, a grey area as to whether such recommendation alone will be a sufficient condition. It is, however, clear that the CEC has powers to make such recommendations and this has been upheld by the apex court in Dhanoa S.S. vs Union of India (AIR-1991-SC-1745) and subsequently in T.N.Seshan vs Union of India (1995-4-SCC-611).

The substantial point made in these two landmark cases was that while the office of the Chief Election Commissioner is mandatory and not negotiable, appointment of the Election Commissioners are discretionary and the President, at any given time, can do without appointing the Election Commissioners. However, once they are appointed and the Commission made into a multi-member body, all business of the Commission shall be transacted unanimously and in the event of differences, the majority’s opinion shall prevail.

Thus, there is nothing in the law that prevents the CEC’s power to recommend the removal of an Election Commissioner. And Mr. Gopalsami’s recommendation to the President that Mr. Chawla be removed cannot be faulted for being unconstitutional. Moreover, the CEC has done this only on the basis of a series of representations against Mr. Chawla ever since he was appointed as Election Commissioner in May 2005. The CEC, after having scrutinized these, has now come to the conclusion that there is some firm basis behind the apprehension that Mr. Chawla may not act without bias and in a non-partisan manner.

All this are important in the months ahead than between May 2005 and now because Mr. Chawla happens to be the natural claimant to be the CEC after April 20, 2009 and thus preside over the Commission in conducting the general elections due by that time. CEC Gopalsami is due to remit office on April 20, 2009. Although there is no such stipulation that the senior most EC shall be made the CEC, this has been the convention so far. Moreover, given Mr. Chawla’s past and his record as a bureaucrat, there is hardly any reason to expect the Congress-led UPA Government dumping him.

It will be appropriate, at this stage, to recall his past. In doing so, it is important to go beyond such obvious details as his date of birth, his schooling, his academic record and the fact that he was a 1969 batch IAS officer, belonged to the Delhi & Andaman Nicobar cadre and held several important assignments before being appointed Election Commissioner on May 16, 2005. He was examined by the Commission on charges involving illegal detention orders under MISA; treatment of detenues in jails; Confirmation of detention orders by the Lt. Governor in four-monthly review and working of the Administrative Review Committee; and the contemptuous attitude of the Delhi Administration to the Ministry of Home Affairs.

And among such details are the following extracts from the report of the Shah Commission of Enquiry:
• Shri Navin Chawla was not one of the members of the Review Committee, but the evidence shows that he used to attend these meetings regularly and take part in the deliberations.
• Though Shri Navin Chawla had no position in the jail hierarchy, he was exercising extra-statutory control in jail matters and sending instructions in all matters including the treatment of particular detenues.
• The case of Smt. Promila Lewis offers a striking example of the scant regard the Lt. Governor had for the instructions from the MHA. … Shri Kishen Chand has stated in this connection that the case of Smt. Promila Lewis cannot be decided without the approval of the then Prime Minister. Smt. Lewis was responsible for organizing an agitation for minimum wages to the farm labourers working in the farmland of Smt. Indira Gandhi and Shri B.K.Nehru in Mehrauli area when Shri Nain Chawla was the ADM of that area. Shri Navin Chawla had told him that the PM desired that Smt. Lewis was not to be released. He himself had also got it confirmed from the PM.

These are only extracts. Mr. Chawla, then a junior officer (with only six years in the IAS) was guilty of such and other misconducts. And he escaped penal action against him on the basis of the Shah Commission’s report only because the Janata Party collapsed under its own weight and the Government fell in July 1979. Th Shah Commission, appointed under Section 3 of the Commission for Enquiry Act, 1952, had completed its work and submitted its report even before the collapse. But then, Indira Gandhi, on her return as Prime Minister in January 1980 lost no time in dumping the three volumes of the report and Navin Chawla was soon rehabilitated as Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Labour. He was thus able to climb the ladder to become Information and Broadcasting Secretary in May 2004 and picked up to become Election Commissioner in May 2005 by Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet.

Justice J.C.Shah was not a partisan political activist. He was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1970-71) and headed the Commission of Enquiry that went into the Emergency excesses only in that capacity. And in his report, Justice Shah took pains to name three officers: P.S.Bhinder, K.S.Bajwa and Navin Chawla based on the evidence that was mustered before him during the enquiry. The report said:

``S/Shri P.S.Bhinder, K.S.Bajwa and Navin Chawla exercised enormous powers during the emergency because they had easy access to the then Prime Minister’s house. Their approach to the problems of the period relating to the citizens was authoritarian and callous. They grossly misused their position and abused their powers in cynical disregard of the welfare of the citizens, and in the process rendered themselves unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fairplay and consideration for others. In their relish for power, they completely subverted the normal channels of command and administrative procedures.’’

Imagine Chawla as the Chief Election Commissioner!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The drama in Jharkhand

Jharkhand, one of the three new States that came into existence in year 2000, haas had six Chief Ministers in the eight years of its existence. Putting it differently, almost all the political parties that have a presence in the State – the BJP, the Congress, the JMM and the RJD – have had their men associated with ``governing’’ the State in these eight years. And that is not all.

Jharkhand, in fact, was ruled by Madhu Koda. Who is that? Well. Mmanu Koda happens to be a MLA. Well. How does that become significant? The answer is that Madhu Koda is just an MLA; his Jharkhand People’s Party had just one MLA until recently. And yet Madhu Koda managed to be Chief Minister of Jharkhand with support from the Congress, the JMM and the RJD.

He lost the job in August 2008 only because the Congress and the RJD were forced to tell Koda that their support to him cannot continue any longer because the two parties had committed to make Shibhu Soren the Chief Minister of Jharkhand in return for the support that Soren and other MPs from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha gave to the Manmohan Singh Government during the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha on July 22, 2008.

Yes. Notwithstanding the fact that several details of the 123 deal between the Manmohan Singh regime and the Bush dispensation (the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal will now depend on which way Obama thinks!) are not known even to this day, the truth about the deal between Dr. Singh’s political managers and Shibhu Soren was confirmed within a couple of weeks after the confidence vote.

That the Congress had promised to make Soren, still a MP, as Chief Minister of Jharkhand was reported in the media during the week before the confidence vote in the Lok Sabha and the media also made it known that it was in exchange for the support that Soren had assured to save the Manmohan Singh-led secular-democratic-progressive-nationalist (I am running out of descriptive words of this kind) from falling after the Left parties announced that they no longer supported the regime.

Let me be honest. I did not want to believe that story. Despite my pathological aversion to the Congress party I thought that the venerable Dr. Manmohan Singh will not stoop as low as that to save himself and his regime. Moreover, Dr. Singh had taken a lot of pains, in July 2004, within months after he became Prime Minister, to obtain Shibhu Soren’s resignation from the Union Cabinet. Recall that sordid drama when the venerable Prime Minister, Dr. Singh, could not speak to his cabinet colleague Mr. Soren and ask for his resignation in the aftermath of a sessions court in Jharkhand issuing an arrest warrant in his name for a charge of murder.

Soren was not traceable for a couple of days. It was another matter that he remained a Union Cabinet Minister during those couple of days and accessible to only his private secretary. In any case, Soren agreed to resign, managed an acquittal in that murder case (involving the murder of his own former private secretary, Sashinath Jha) and ended up as the sixth Chief Minister of Jharkhand replacing Madhu Koda.

Soren, however, had to quit when he lost the by-election to the State assembly. And the irony was that Soren lost to Koda’s nominee. In other words, Madhu Koda is no longer alone. He has another MLA by his side now. And when Soren was forced to resign, Koda’s hopes must have revived once again. It is likely that he mobilizes some of his resources to garner support from wherever it comes so that he could become Chief Minister of Jharkhand again and shore up his resources again.

It remains to be seen if the Congress and the RJD, having had Governor Syed Sibtey Razi (a former Rajya Sabha member of the Congress) to recommend central rule for now and placed the State assembly under suspended animation, decide to renew their commitment to democracy once again and strike a deal with Koda! Let that not be ruled out.

And as for the people of Jharkhand, the adivasis who spent a lifetime and even more to ensure that Jharkhand is carved out as a separate State out of Bihar, they have two options: One would be to let things go the way they do and suffer in silence. This, however, is unfair and undesirable. The other option is to renew their battle for democracy and justice and while doing so take care to learn from their past mistakes and ensure that the Madhu Kodas and the Shibhu Sorens are prevented from snatching away the fruits of such struggles.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

It was a meeting, by some chance, with a young enthusiast of the CPI(M) in Erode last week. Balaji, being his name, will become a member of the party soon. He has passed the first two stages before one is made a party member and his enthusiasm to speak about the party and its virtues is such that he refuses to accept that there are certain developments in the CPI(M) that are not good to its health.

All the bad things that one hears about the CPI(M), according to him, are tales peddled by the class enemies. And that includes such reports about faction feuds in the Kerala unit of the party. Balaji refused to concede that it was not proper for N.N.Krishnadas, CPI(M) MP from Pallakad, to have been to The Taj in Mumbai for a meal. He is, however, relieved that his comrade escaped unhurt during the terror strike in that expensive hotel. The surprise element was that this young comrade did not tell me that Comrade Krishnadas was behind killing all the terrorists in the Taj and saving the nation.

Well. No matter what Balaji believes in, the fact is that the CPI(M) central committee, that met in Kochi this week, was caught up with the fact that the party is in bad shape in the State. The comrades, including general secretary Prakash Karat, are not as naïve as this young friend that I met with in Erode, to shout of a conspiracy by the bourgeoisie, whenever there is talk of a raging faction feud in the Kerala unit. They know that Pinarayi Vijayan and V.S.Achutanandan do not see eye to eye and worse that the feud has very little to do with any ideological dispute.

It is significant that the present round of battle in the CPI(M)’s Kerala unit has nothing to do with ideological positions. Both Pinarayi Vijayan and Achutanandan are in perfect agreement over participating in elections, forming coalitions to wield power and that the Congress party is a lesser evil than the BJP. They also agree that there is nothing wrong with the setting up of SEZs and that the killings in Nandigram were in order. They also agree that the Indo-US nuclear deal was bad and the CPI(M) could not have continued support to the UPA even after the deal was confirmed.

Now, this leads us to raise the most important question. What is it that makes the two leaders fight with each other and take the battle into the public domain? Notwithstanding Balaji’s belief that there is no such fight between the two leaders, we all know that Pinarayi and Achutanandan were kept under suspension from the Politburo for a few months sometimes ago. And this action was taken because they were throwing mud at each other in the public. And the party told them that being members of the CPI(M), they could fight with each other but only inside the party forum! In other words, it is a fact, conceded by the party itself, that the two leaders are in the habit of fighting with each other.

It is also a fact that the followers of these two leaders too fight with one another and the various district conferences of the party during 2007-08 were the stage where the battle was fought. And the war, in the final stage, was won by Pinarayi Vijayan along with such illustrious men in the Kerala cabinet as M.A.Baby, Thomas Isac and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.

In the absence of any explanation from the party and its leaders as to what was the issue on which these battles were fought and the war was won by Pinarayi Vijayan, there is no other way but to conclude that the party is riven by factions and the two major factions, as it is, are represented by Pinarayi and Achutanandan. It is also significant in this context that the Achutanandan faction is now in a hopeless minority within the party but a strong force outside.

When I say this, I must explain what it means. Those loyal to Achutanandan have been expelled from the party, in hordes during the past couple of years, and the party organisation is now a fiefdom of Pinarayi Vijayan. They all enjoy the fruits of power too. Most of them ride in Government cars with beacon lights and run the affairs of the state as well as the temples! The Achutandan supporters, meanwhile, have grouped into a political formation and contested a by-election to a local body in Shoranur recently. The significant fact is that their candidate won the election and established that they are still strong outside the party organisation.

This indeed is cause for worry insofar as the CPI(M) leaders are concerned. And more so because the expelled partymen are raising and publicizing acts of impropriety by the leaders including Pinarayi Vijayan and the sons of the prominent ministers in the cabinet. The scandalous SNC-Lavalin deal and reports of criminal acts involving the sons of at least three ministers in the Kerala cabinet are instances of this. The CPI(M) has reasons to be worried. It is another matter that Balaji, whom I met in Erode last week, is not ruffled by any of these but is angry and even worried that someone like me, after he discovered to his horror, was an old associate of the party, is now convinced that there is a lot of things wrong about the CPI(M) and that includes the killing of 14 people in Nandigram simply because they dared to fight against the Government to protect their land being handed over to the Salem group from Indonesia.