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Since 1st March, 1999
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Uneasy hush over EC

May 8: The political establishment squirmed in discomfiture today as the Election Commission, one of the most trusted constitutional bodies in the country, was sucked deeper into an unseemly row involving caste overtones.

Stung by an IAS officerís allegation of 'partisan' and casteist conduct against two election commissioners, the panel scrambled to hold a full meeting on a Sunday and dismiss the charges as 'scurrilous and baseless'.

But IAS officer L.V. Saptharishi raised the ante today, not only renewing his charge but also directly targeting B.B. Tandon, who is set to take over as chief election commissioner on May 15.

The bureaucrat had earlier written to the Centre, alleging that the two election commissioners ' Tandon and N. Gopalaswamy ' had pushed through the BJPís demand for countermanding the Lok Sabha election in Biharís Chhapra, which was contested and eventually won by Laloo Prasad Yadav, last year.

'Recall what happened in the Mahabharata. When Draupadi was disrobed, everyone watched silently, including the elders, Bhishma pitamaha, Bhim and Arjun. I was not ready to be a silent spectator after Tandonís appointment was announced,' Saptharishi, who was one of the observers in Chhapra, said today.

Saptharishi gave a graphic description of purported conversations with the two commissioners in which disparaging remarks were made about 'Yadavs'. ( )

In Patna, Laloo Prasadís Rashtriya Janata Dal sought caste quotas in the poll panel and the judiciary, adding to yesterdayís demand that the two commissioners step down.

The demands have put the Congress ' and many political parties ' in a bind: they can neither support Laloo Prasadís call nor oppose him openly.

Government sources said since a formal announcement has been made, it is 'very difficult, almost impossible' to revoke Tandonís appointment. 'The only procedure of removal is similar to the impeachment of a Supreme Court judge,' a Union minister said.

As the RJD gears up to rock Parliament, the governmentís best bet is to allow the party to protest and hope that 'things will cool down'. 'But there is no way we can support the demand for the election commissionersí resignation,' a Congress leader said.

The Left, too, reacted with caution. CPM leader Prakash Karat described Saptharishi as an 'able and upright officer' but added that the party would not criticise the poll panel in public.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: 'Laloo should not have made the demand (for the resignations) so openly, he could have just complained.'

The BJP gunned for Saptharishi. But the party was left somewhat red in the face when a TV channel aired a laudatory report on Saptharishi by party leader and former commerce minister Arun Jaitley two years ago.

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