SK Mendiratta, the longest serving legal counsel of the Election Commission, has confessed that ‘two or three decisions’ by the national poll body has dented its reputation.
Speaking to Indian Express, 79-year-old Mendiratta, who’s been with the EC for 53 years, said that the poll panel had not consulted him before recommending the disqualification of 21 AAP MLAs to the President earlier this year.
“One of the reasons I decided to come today was to remove that impression. I was not consulted on the opinion given to the President (on the office of profit complaint against AAP MLAs), or on the announcement of elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, or when the Karnataka (poll) announcement was made,” Mendiratta said. He also added that ‘Before that, for all the general elections, I was consulted.’
He said, “Previously, whenever we issued an order or gave some opinion, we always thought — and it was also my advice to the Commission — that we were handling all these things in a quasi-judicial capacity. And that if an order was issued in quasi-judicial capacity, no authority should go to the court to defend it. That the order should defend itself. Whenever in the past such questions arose, and they asked for my opinion, I said no, let the court decide it. This time I can’t say why they did this, who advised them and who appeared (in court)… It was definitely a deviation from the past.
“Take a lower court. If the High Court takes up a matter against its decision, the lower court doesn’t go (in appeal). The EC is a very high constitutional authority… In a very old case once, they said that when you pass an order, you have to give all the reasons (justifying it). So you won’t supplement when that particular order is challenged. The order should defend itself.”
When asked about his anxiety over the EC’s reputation being tarnished in public perception, he said, “No anxiety, because public perception is the main force and strength of the EC. We have to see that public perception does not go wrong… These two-three decisions have created some dent in the fair name. I would not mince words.”
Mendiratta also said that the EC had not consulted before delaying the announcement of Gujarat assembly elections date. He said, “I would not like to sit in judgment on their collective wisdom. They felt that these things can be decoupled, they have done it. It is for people to see whether that was right or wrong… They did not ask (me) and I came to know that the (poll) programme is being announced only at about 11 o’clock (that day).
“When I reached office, I saw a scroll on TV that the programme was going to be announced. Even at that time, there was no indication that it would be announced only for Himachal. So, I thought both the things they would announce together… I was a little surprised.”
The EC had stunned everyone last year when it announced the date for Himachal Pradesh assembly elections but withheld the date for the Gujarat ;polls even though the counting for both the states was on the same day. Many alleged that this was to allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to announce freebies and launch new projects before the Model Code of Conduct kicked in. The then Chief Election Commissioner, Achal Kumar Joti, had earlier served as the chief secretary to Modi during his term as the Gujarat chief minister.
Meanwhile, AAP has lashed out at the biased EC after Mendiratta’s sensational revelations. AAP’s Saurabh Bharadwaj said, “Since the time the disqualification case was being heard by the EC, we have been saying that their working seems biased. Once the election dates for Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat were delinked, the Congress alleged that the EC was biased. Now it is clear and proven that the EC is biased. In an independent country, where the entire democracy and democratic process is under the watchful eye of the EC, it poses a massive danger.”
21 AAP MLAs were disqualified in office of profit case earlier this year by President Ram Nath Kovind on the basis of the recommendations made by the EC. The Delhi High Court had later quashed the EC’s recommendations adding that the poll panel had violated the natural course of justice.