New Delhi: Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who dissented with the poll panel‘s recent clean chits to PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah on alleged model code violations, has recused himself from Election Commission meetings, saying his presence was “irrelevant and meaningless” since his dissent was not being recorded in orders.
In a letter to Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, he has sought to point out the several reminders he had given the former to record minority decisions, a senior official in the commission told ThePrint.
A retired IAS officer of the 1980 batch, Lavasa has not attended any meeting on issues pertaining to the model code since 4 May.
In the letter, Lavasa has alleged that the practice of not recording dissent is in contravention of the convention laid down for multi-body statutory bodies, the official said.
The repeated failure to record his dissent in the orders of the commission has rendered his presence in the meetings “irrelevant and meaningless”, he is learnt to have argued.
While he has decided to stay away from full-commission meetings, he has said that he would be exploring other avenues to ensure that the lawful functioning of the Election Commission is followed when it comes to recording dissenting views.
The commission has so far maintained that the orders passed with regard to model code violations this election season are not quasi-judicial in nature, and hence do not require the recording of dissent.
Responding to media reports regarding Lavasa’s dissent, the office of CEC Sunil Arora issued a statement Saturday, calling the controversy “unsavoury and avoidable”.
“The three members of the commission are not expected to be template or clones of each other,” Arora said. The commission, he added, has had instances of “vast diversion of views” in the past, but they have remained “within the confines of the ECI”.
“It needs to be mentioned that in the last meeting of the commission on 14.05.2019, it was unanimously decided that some groups shall be formed to deliberate the issues, which arose in the course of conduct of Lok Sabha elections, 2019, just as it was done after the Lok Sabha elections of 2014,” he said.
“Out of the 13 issues/areas which were identified, Model Code of Conduct was one of them,” he added.
He said while he had never shied away from engaging in public debates, “there is a time for everything”.
Four dissenting notes
As reported by ThePrint on 5 May, Lavasa is learnt to have dissented in four decisions taken by the Election Commission recently — one pertaining to BJP president Amit Shah, and three regarding Modi.
For instance, in a 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.
Lavasa disagreed with the other two commissioners — Arora and Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra — and said the PM did, in fact, invoke the armed forces in an election campaign in violation of EC guidelines.
Lavasa, who has been with the Election Commission since last year, is set to become CEC in 2021 after Arora retires.
This report has been updated with the CEC’s response.