The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM tells both sides to lay off
- India’s image at stake in poll panel row
The responsibility (to maintain sanctity) vests both in those within the institutions and in those outside
— Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, May 10: Nothing should be done to weaken democratic institutions like the Election Commission that have earned India international respect and admiration because of their 'impeccable record', Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned today.

Singh did not spare anyone in his criticism ' neither his own cabinet minister and ally, Laloo Prasad Yadav, nor the IAS officer who attacked the poll panel in a letter, nor even the election commissioners ' saying that this 'responsibility vests both in those within the institutions and in those outside'.

The Prime Minister situated the controversy in a broader perspective, arguing that if allowed to grow, it could adversely impact India’s image, especially at a time when many viewed it as a 'role model' for managing the dual processes of economic development and democratic governance.

'It is incumbent on all to ensure that the essential institutions of a democratic framework are respected, their sanctity maintained and their autonomy preserved in a manner which will ensure that they continue to contribute to our democratic life,' he said.

On one side, Laloo Prasad has demanded the removal of two election commissioners, B.B. Tandon and N. Gopalaswamy, after an IAS officer, L.V. Saptharishi, accused them of making casteist remarks during the Bihar polls a year ago.

On the other, the election commissioners themselves have gone and met the President.

Seeking to cap the controversy, the Prime Minister iterated that the letter to the law minister, written by Saptharishi, had not been received by H.R. Bhardwaj, who had said the same thing yesterday.

Reading out a statement to reporters on the flight back from Moscow, Singh argued that such controversies were counter-productive.

Singh felt India was emerging on the global scene as 'a confident, progressive and rapidly growing economy, which has managed to build a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society within a democratic framework'.

The entire nation, the Prime Minister advised, should understand the importance of the contribution of constitutional bodies like the Election Commission to earning India the world’s respect and admiration.

Reacting to another controversy ' the boycott of Parliament by the National Democratic Alliance ' Singh declared that to say he was disappointed was to put it mildly. He explained the boycott as a sign of the NDA’s failure to reconcile to being out of power.

Singh said his government was prepared for any discussion ' 'whether it is the issue of tainted ministers or anything else' ' in Parliament. On the NDA’s charge that his government was 'vindictive', the Prime Minister smiled wryly and said: 'Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.'

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