Law Ministry cannot control EC: Quraishi

New Delhi: Against the backdrop of the recent controversy between the Election Commission and the Law ministry over the latter claiming control over it, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi on Monday made it clear that this cannot happen as EC is a Constitutionally independent body.

Describing the Law Ministry as a nodal body, he said there is no way Government can think of controlling the EC. "It is only a nodal ministry. The Law ministry is also a nodal ministry for the Supreme Court. But if they think of controlling the Supreme Court or even the Election Commission…No Way. That cannot happen," he said at a function here.

He said there is "tendency of a government to try and control institutions which they can…The Constitution has made it (EC) a very independent institution." Quraishi`s comments come days after the spat between him and Law Minister Salman Khurshid after the latter`s claimed his ministry had "control" over the EC.

Irked over Khurshid`s comments, the CEC had complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had written back upholding the independence of the Constitutional authority.

Quraishi, who had also taken strong exception to Khurshid`s sub-quota remarks during the UP polls and had taken up the issue with President Pratibha Patil, said the "unprecedented" situation at that time warranted such a step. "Here was a Law Minister who was challenging the authority of a constitutional body, whose powers have also been upheld by the Supreme Court. That amounted to a very unprecedented situation…What we did was right," Quraishi said.

Responding to questions after delivering the 40th Shri Ram memorial lecture here today on `Democracy and Governance – The current context`, Quraishi said the Law Minister challenging the EC was a totally "different issue" but added that it was now a "closed chapter".

"The Law Minister saying `hang me if you can` was a different issue. This was not a violation of the Model Code…He was challenging the EC`s authority… We had to refer the matter to the President… After that, he (Khurshid) did make apologise publicly," Quraishi said.

When asked why the candidature of Khurshid`s wife Louis Khurshid was not cancelled from Farrukhabad, Quraishi said, "His wife is a different individual. Why should we countermand her election…We have to be just and fair."

In a communication to President Pratibha Patil in February, the EC had sought her "immediate and decisive" intervention after it charged Khurshid with "improper and unlawful" defiance of its orders under which he was censured for promising sub-quota for minorities during UP polls.

Quraishi also justified the EC`s decision to cover statues of elephants, the party symbol of BSP, in Uttar Pradesh elections for creating a level-playing field. "Elephant is a brand. Here is a brand promotion of a party logo…there should be equality and neutrality," he said.

The CEC also rejected proposals for state funding as well as that for having the Right to Reject and Right to Recall, saying Right to Reject was "impractical", while Right to Recall would destabilise the country.

Quraishi also lashed out at the apathy of voters saying, "People are indifferent…they do not come out to vote. It is a matter shame and embarrassment…We should change this attitude."

Outrightly rejecting the idea of state funding, he said, "I am totally against state funding. What we are fighting against is black money and not the Rs 16-lakh but the Rs 5 crore of black money used in elections."

The CEC said democracy in India would be further strengthened if electoral reforms suggested by the Commission are brought in. Terming paid news as a very serious issue, he said, "It is not new to India…We are trying to deal with it. There has been much improvement."

On a question about the Congress flag and the tricolour being similar and any action proposed to change the Congress flag, Quraishi said, "This was something that happened 60 years back…this issue crops up often…But it is beyond us. We cannot reopen every chapter."

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