Breaking his silence on the controversy surrounding fellow Commissioner Ashok Lavasa’s demand to record any dissent in the Election Commission’s model code orders, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora on Wednesday said there are times to remain quiet and times to speak up, indicating the issue could have been raised post elections. Also Read - Bihar Elections 2020: Three-Phase Polling From October 28; Counting of Votes on November 10
Arora also defended the clean chits given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah on complaints related to model code violations, saying decisions were taken on merit and on “appreciation of facts”. Also Read - Former Finance Secretary Rajiv Kumar to Take Over as Election Commissioner on Ashok Lavasa's Exit
In an interview to PTI, the CEC said he is not a “moral judge of anybody, least of all somebody as senior as Ashok Lavasa”. Also Read - Ashok Lavasa Resigns as Election Commissioner, to Join ADB Next Month
“Whatever may have been his misgivings or feelings, ultimately none of us can tell a lie to ourselves,” Arora said while noting that all the members of the poll body are not supposed to be “photocopies” of each other.
Asked whether the controversy relating to Lavasa’s dissent was ‘avoidable’ during elections, Arora said, “I did not start the controversy … I had said that eloquence of silence is always difficult but far more desirable to see the election process through instead of creating ill-timed controversies. This is what I had said and I stand by that.”
He said he also maintained that all the three members of EC are not expected to be template or clones of each other.
“Whether it is this ECI or past ECIs, people are not photocopies of each other. But there are times for everything. Time to speak, time to remain quiet,” he said.
Citing a legal opinion obtained by the Commission from its former legal advisor SK Mendiratta, Arora asserted the model code violation complaints do not fall in the category of quasi-judicial cases.
“It is the law. It is the law of the land. Cases related to symbols of parties and references received from the President and Governors are quasi-judicial where both the sides are represented by counsels. MCC by definition is short-lived. There is hardly any time for a proper quasi-judicial hearing,” he said.
He said the opinions of the three — the CEC and the two fellow commissioners — are always noted on files.
“When we formally communicate the decision, whether it is a 2:1 majority decision or unanimous, we don’t write on that (order). UPSC (Union Public Service Commission) too is a multi-member body. When they fail or pass a candidate, they just inform about the result but never mention about which member wrote what,” Arora said to drive home his point.
Lavasa had dissented on a series of clean chits given by the EC to Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Shah concerning their speeches during the election campaign.
On allegations from some quarters, including the opposition parties, that the EC was biased in clearing cases related to the PM and Shah, Arora said, “If the clean chit was given, it was given on merit and on the appreciation of facts. I have nothing more to say on that.”
After Lavasa’s demand to record his dissent notes in the EC orders was not accepted, he had recused himself from cases relating to violations of the MCC.
In a strongly-worded letter to Arora on May 4, Lavasa is learned to have said that he was being forced to stay away from the meetings of the full commission since minority decisions were not being recorded.
On May 21, the EC had rejected, with a majority vote, Lavasa’s demand that dissent notes should be recorded in its orders on model code violations, days after the simmering tension within the poll body over the issue becoming public.
After the ‘full commission’ of the panel, comprising CEC Arora, Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, deliberated on the contentious issue, the EC had decided that dissent notes and minority views would remain part of the records, but would not be part of its order.
Responding to a question on the Opposition’s allegation that the EC was slow in dealing with the model code complaints related to Modi and Shah and subsequently the Supreme Court had to step in, Arora said the apex court did give some adverse remarks but there was a “gross mismatch” between the understanding of the brief by the EC’s advocate-on-record and the brief given by a deputy election commissioner.
He said when the EC started to decide on the complaints, the top court did not press further on the issue.
“In all these matters (of complaints of model code violations) you have to get the certified transcripts from the field and you have a report from the district election officer and from the CEO and then a conscious decision is taken,” he said referring to the time taken to deal with the cases.
He said the EC dealt with all the cases despite being busy in carrying out the “gigantic” electoral exercise.
“… and yes, when you are in the election process, you do several things. Still, a nudge from the court, especially the SC, is always helpful,” he said.