Ashok Lavasa Skips EC Meetings Over MCC Row, CEC Arora Responds
Following his letter, Ashok Lavasa was called in for a meeting with CEC Arora.
Dissenting election commissioner, Ashok Lavasa, has been recusing himself from meetings of the “full commission” of the Election Commission – also comprising Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora and election commissioner Sushil Chandra – since 4 May, according to reports.
Lavasa’s decision reportedly comes in the wake of the poll body taking a decision on 3 May that PM Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah did not violate the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), without recording his minority decisions.
According to NDTV, Lavasa wrote to CEC Arora on 16 May raising concerns over the poll body’s decision-making process, stating that he was being “forced to stay way from the meetings” since his minority opinions were going unrecorded in the larger decisions of the commission.
CEC Arora has responded to ANI by saying that this is an internal matter of the EC, and that a meeting had been scheduled on 21 May to discuss the issues raised by Lavasa.
What is Lavasa Reported to Have Said in His Letter?
“It appears futile for me to participate in the deliberations of the commission until its lawful functioning is restored in terms of including the minority decisions recorded by me,” Lavasa reportedly wrote in his letter, according to NDTV.
The Hindustan Times reports that Lavasa sent his first letter to the CEC on 4 May, and has sent numerous reminders since then to include minority decisions or dissents in final orders of the EC. Since 3 May, the Election Commission has not made any decisions on violations of the MCC. NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain reports that the CEC ignored three letters from Lavasa over ten days – on 4 May, 10 May and 14 May – which is when Lavasa wrote his letter of 16 May to him.
Lavasa is reported to have also written that he might consider resorting to other measures “aimed at restoring to the lawful functioning of the Commission” as far as minority decisions were concerned.
NDTV has reported that CEC Arora called Lavasa in for a meeting after the letter was sent to him, in which he tried to explain that minority views are recorded only in orders of quasi-judicial proceedings. However, MCC violations are not quasi-judicial proceedings, and thus, do not mandate the recording of minority decisions.
CEC Sunil Arora’s Response
CEC Sunil Arora issued a statement to ANI on the controversy.
He has not denied the reports but says that there has been “an unsavoury and avoidable controversy reported in sections of the media today about internal functioning of Election Commission of India in respect of handling Mode[l] Code of Conduct.”
Arora says that the “three members of ECI are not expected to be template or clones of each other” and that this has meant there are often differences of opinion: “There have been so many times in the past when there has been a vast diversion of views as it can and should be.”
He has raised concerns over the differences of opinion being made public in this case noting that these normally remain “within the confines of ECI”, and writes that while he has personally “never shied away from a public debate whenever required but there is a time and place for everything.”
Arora goes on to say that in the last meeting of the Commission on 14 May, 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 Lok Sabha elections of 2014. ”
It is unclear whether he is claiming here that Lavasa attended the meeting on 14 May, and whether the unanimous decision referred to here included him.
A further statement was made by Arora to ANI, where he said:
“It needs to be clarified categorically and unambiguously that this is purely an internal matter of ECT and as such any speculation, innuendoes and insinuations should be eschewed. It needs to be mentioned that a meeting had already been scheduled on 21 May to discuss this and related matters.”
There is still neither a denial of the reported letter and issues raised by Lavasa, nor a clarification on whether Lavasa has agreed to be part of this meeting on 21 May.
The Political Fallout
It first emerged on 3 May that the EC’s decision to give PM Modi a clean chit for two of his campaign speeches which came under their scanner was not a unanimous one, with Lavasa voicing his dissent.
The two speeches that were under the EC’s scanner were Modi’s Wardha rally on 1 April, where he said that Rahul Gandhi was contesting from a constituency where “the minority was the majority”, referring to Wayanad.
The second speech was his Latur rally from 9 April, where he asked first-time voters to dedicate their vote to those who carried out the air strike in Balakot. The EC had sought a report from the poll officials in Maharashtra over this comment.
Reacting to the controversy, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala lashed out at the EC, saying it has become a stooge of the ruling party.
"The Election Commission has become Modi's stooge. It is clear from Mr Lavasa's letter that the EC is not interested in even recording his dissenting view on Modi and Amit Shah," he told news agency ANI.
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