- The poll panel's rules express preference for a unanimous view
- But it provides for a majority ruling in the absence of unanimity
- Election body's formal orders bear no reference to dissenting view
The recent clean chits by the Election Commission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah over allegations of poll code violations by the opposition were not unanimous, NDTV has learnt.
A high-ranking source in the Election Commission told NDTV that on five occasions, one of the three commissioners dissented with the majority view to let PM Modi and Amit Shah off the hook for their comments.
The three-member "full commission" of the Election Commission consists of the Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora and the two election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra. The poll panel's rules express preference for a unanimous view, but provide for a majority ruling in the absence of unanimity.
The five rulings where one of the commissioners dissented with his two colleagues include two separate instances where the Prime Minister sought votes in the name of the martyrs of the Pulwama terror attacks, in speeches in Maharastra and Karnataka and two separate instances where the Prime Minister questioned Rahul Gandhi's selection of the Wayanad Lok Sabha seat as pandering to minorities, in speeches in Maharashtra.
The fifth instance was related to Mr Shah's comments, also on Wayanad, where in a speech in Nagpur, he said "Rahul Gandhi is contesting in such a place where it is impossible to say when a procession is taken out, whether it is a procession in India or Pakistan". In this case, too, the sole commissioner objected to the majority view granting the BJP president a clean chit.
In what is likely to create controversy, no formal orders were issued by the Election Commission on complaints where there was dissent by one of the commissioners. Instead, only a reply was sent to the Congress, which had filed the complaints. In all other complaints of poll code violations against various politicians, the Election Commission had issued official orders.
In a similar case against Congress president Rahul Gandhi for violating the poll code, where the Election Commission has given a clean chit, the reports of Gujarat chief electoral officer and the Gandhinagar district electoral officer have been uploaded on the poll body's website. However, no such reports - in cases where the PM and Amit Shah have been given a clean chit - have been uploaded.
A former Chief Election Commission told NDTV, "Maybe because there was a dissent in the full commission meeting while giving clean chits to PM Modi and Amit Shah, the commission would have avoided an order giving reasons for the clean chit".
The last dissent in the Election Commission dates back to May 2009 when the then Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalswami dissented with two then election commissioners on a plea seeking disqualification of then Congress President Sonia Gandhi for receiving an award from Belgium. Even in that case, the dissent of Mr Gopalswami was duly recorded in the written order of the commission.
The Election Commission has been hit by charges of bias by the opposition for inordinately delaying action against the Prime Minister, as a backlog of complaints against PM Modi built up.
In the case of the of votes-for-martyrs comments, the Election Commission acted 21 days after the complaint.
It finally took the nudging of the Supreme Court for the Election Commission to act on the rest, with the Commission passing 19 orders in the past four days.
In all its decisions so far, there has not been a single reprimand against the PM or Amit Shah.
Responding to media reports of dissent within the Election Commission, Congress leader P Chidambaram sent out a series of Tweets, saying the poll panel is finally showing some signs of life.
With one member of the EC finding fault with Modi-Shah speeches and dissenting from the other two, the Election Commission is finally showing some signs of life!— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) May 4, 2019
Closer to May 6, 12 and 19, the Election Commission may actually reprimand Mr Modi and Mr Shah. That means the fear of Modi-Shah is finally weakening.— P. Chidambaram (@PChidambaram_IN) May 4, 2019
The Election Commission spokesperson declined to comment.