New Delhi: The bitter, polarising Lok Sabha election campaign has taken its toll on the Election Commission and divided its three commissioners, with Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa dissenting on three of the five EC decisions on complaints against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ThePrint has learnt.
Lavasa, a 1980-batch retired IAS officer who was appointed election commissioner by the Modi government in 2018, is learnt to have dissented in four decisions taken by the Election Commission — one against BJP president Amit Shah, besides the three which absolved Modi of flouting the Model Code of Coduct.
For instance, in the complaint against the PM for a statement where he urged first-time voters to dedicate their votes to those who carried out the air strikes in Balakot, the EC concluded that the PM did not directly court votes for his party.
However, Lavasa disagreed with the other two commissioners, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra. He thought the PM did, in fact, invoke the armed forces in an election campaign — in violation of EC guidelines instructing politicians to refrain from the same.
Lavasa is set to become CEC in 2021 after Arora retires. He declined to comment when reached by ThePrint.
Supreme Court intervention
After the EC had not acted on complaints against Modi and Shah for almost a month, the Supreme Court ordered it to do so before 6 May, and the EC promptly disposed of several complaints, giving the two leaders a clean chit in each case.
According to the EC, the PM did not violate the model code of conduct (MCC) when he referred to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad — he “went out with a microscope to look for a safe seat to contest and selected a seat where the majority is in minority”.
He did not violate the MCC with his Balakot remarks to first-time voters, either, and the EC found no violation in the PM’s casual invocation of the use of the country’s nuclear arsenal against Pakistan. And it finally found nothing wrong with his statement that “new India gave a befitting reply to Pakistan” — again, seen as an attempt by critics to politicise the Balakot strikes.
The EC also absolved Shah for a statement where he likened the Wayanad constituency to Pakistan.
A Haryana-cadre officer, Lavasa has earlier served as secretary in the civil aviation and environment ministries. He has also served in the ministries of renewable energy and power in different capacities. He retired as finance secretary in October 2017.
Known as an upright and non-controversial officer in Haryana, Lavasa is credited with bringing in huge investments when Bhupinder Singh Hooda was the chief minister.
“Lavasa is in the class of yesteryear civil services officers. The typical stiff upper lip and a no-nonsense man,” a junior colleague in the IAS recalled.
According to Section 10 of The Election Commission (Conditions of Service of Election Commissioners and Transaction of Business) Act, 1991, all business of the EC “shall, as far as possible, be transacted unanimously”.
This provision further adds that if “Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners differ in opinion on any matter, such matter shall be decided according to the opinion of the majority”.
Rajiv Gandhi vs Election Commission
The EC was a single-member body from its inception in 1950 until October 1989. It was in 1989 that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi changed it into a multi-member commission as he sought to clip the powers of the then CEC RVS Peri Sastri.
It returned to being headed by a single member after V.P. Singh, who succeeded Rajiv Gandhi, fired the two commissioners in 1990. Singh’s decision was overturned by the Supreme Court when one of the two sacked commissioners, S.S. Dhanoa, challenged the National Front government’s decision.
Since October 1993, the EC has been functioning as a three-member body — with all three members enjoying the same powers, and the CEC being only the first among equals.
With inputs from Chitleen Sethi in Chandigarh
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