The Chief Election Commissioner is appointed by the President on the advice of the Union Cabinet. lt is not an appointment under the warrant and seal of the President. His salary is paid out of the consolidated fund of the Union which is voted by Parliament which can also fix his tenure of office by legislation.
These fundamental details have to be stated because of the tantrums of Mr T.N. Seshan issued under the garb of flushing lndian democracy of its defects but which in reality go against natural justice. Above all, they are meant to create an impression that he has limitless powers, which certainly is not the case. He has served two orders, one on the Congress president Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao and the other on the Cabinet Secretary Mr Surendra Singh, to discipline Mr Sitaram Kesri and Mr Kalpanath Rai for offending the model code of conduct for elections by keeping them out of the Cabinet. According to the EC the poll -eve misbehaviour of Mr Kesri is his assurance to Muslims that he is committed to reservations for them in jobs and educational institutions. Mr Rai’s offence is that he has ordered larger releases of sugar to some States merely to woo the electorate.
Keeping a Minister or throwing him out is the privilege of the Prime Minister. Even a Minister censured by the Parliament can continue in office if the PM so desires. That is a power he exercises without his having to be told his duties by one appointed on his advice by the President.
And that is not the end of it. Sensing that party system operates on the basis of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, Mr Seshan has criticised the PM and the party as well for allowing themselves to be willing tools for the machinations of the Ministers. The suggestion is obvious. Mr Seshan implies that Mr Narasimha Rao is culpable because he has turned the blind eye to his Ministers’ misconduct.
Mr Advani and those of his ilk argue that Mr Seshan should not be constrained from doing what he wants because he is trying to save democracy. If the BJP were in power and if Mr Seshan were to save democracy this way by strictures against the Cabinet, how will they react?
The competent working of the Constitution is possible only if the institutions operating it keep to their limits. That is the basic objective behind separation of power between the executive, legislature and judiciary. lf the EC which is a part of the executive is to takeover the role of lawmakers, judge and jury, that will be the death knell of democracy, whatever be the alibis for such excesses.
Mr Seshan has clearly crossed the limit.
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