| Laloo Prasad Yadav at the news conference in Patna. Picture by Deepak Kumar
New Delhi/Patna, May 7: Laloo Prasad Yadav today thrust the government in the middle of a storm by demanding that two election commissioners accused of 'conspiring' to keep him out of Parliament be asked to step down immediately.
Bengal cadre IAS officer L.V. Saptharishi had yesterday accused B.B. Tandon and N. Gopalaswamy of partisan conduct and of making 'every attempt' to countermand last year’s Chhapra Lok Sabha election on 'unreasonable demands' from BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Rajiv Pratap Rudy.
The railway minister was the Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate from Chhapra whom Rudy was contesting.
In a news conference in Patna this morning, Laloo Prasad gunned for the duo’s scalps saying they had ordered the May 31 Chhapra repoll by wrongfully dumping the report of Saptharishi, who was the election observer, and confirming large-scale electoral malpractices.
He said the appointment of Tandon as chief election commissioner (CEC) ' he is due to take over shortly ' and the continuation of Gopalaswamy was 'extremely undesirable in the interest of fair play, justice and democracy and impartial conduct of future elections in the country'.
In his letter to Union law minister H.R. Bhardwaj yesterday, Saptharishi had questioned the integrity of the election commissioners. Although 'there was no particular problem in any constituency', CEC T.S. Krishnamurthy 'was not allowed by these two election commissioners to accept my report on the Chhapra affairs on the date of the election', he said.
The CEC was then forced 'to go in for re-polling in all the polling stations all over the constituency, mistakenly calling it countermanding', he said.
In a press release on May 10, 2004, the Election Commission had said as the April 26 poll was not 'free and fair' and there were 'no proper and adequate security arrangements', it was being declared null and void.
A fresh election was held on May 31, which Laloo Prasad won impressively.
Saptharishi, now the director-general of the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology, alleged that at a meeting one election commissioner had remarked 'they would like to teach a lesson to Laloo Prasad Yadav and all Yadavs'. Another time, he had said 'something dramatic has to be done to fix Laloo Prasad Yadav and teach him a lesson'.
Tandon dismissed the charges as 'baseless'. He said the Chhapra countermand decision was 'unanimous' and was a judicial order subject to judicial review. 'Any aggrieved party could have challenged it in the Supreme Court,' he said.
The BJP has questioned Saptharishi’s 'motive' and asked why he had raked up the issue a year after the elections.
Speaking on television, Saptharishi today stood by his allegations.
If Laloo Prasad presses on with his quit call, the Centre will be faced with an unprecedented situation. Article 324 (1) says an election commissioner cannot be removed from office except on the recommendation of the CEC.
CEC Krishnamurthy will demit office next week. Tandon is due to succeed him on May 15.