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Showcause slap on Saptharishi

New Delhi, May 10: The Centre today served a showcause notice on L.V. Saptharishi, asking him to explain why he had attacked election commissioners B.B. Tandon and N. Gopalaswamy.

According to the notice, the Bengal cadre IAS officer has violated the civil service (code of conduct) rules by his actions.

Saptharishi, who was observer for the Chhapra Lok Sabha elections last year, has publicly accused the two commissioners of having unfairly countermanded the vote at the behest of the BJP.

He has also charged one of the two with making 'casteist' remarks against Yadavs in general and RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav, who won both the original vote and the re-poll from Chhapra, in particular.

Saptharishi, who could not be reached for comments, is believed to be consulting legal opinion before replying to the notice.

Having issued the notice, the Centre tried to do a balancing act to keep its largest ally, the RJD, in good humour.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s neutral-sounding statement on the controversy today was apparently the fallout of a meeting between the railway minister and Congress president Sonia Gandhi yesterday.

RJD sources said that at the meeting, Laloo Prasad expressed his 'unhappiness' at law minister H.R. Bhardwaj’s comments on Saptharishi’s letter to him, where the official had made the accusations against Tandon and Gopalaswamy .

Bhardwaj, who said he had not received the letter, maintained that it was 'improper' for a civil servant to criticise a constitutional authority and indicated that the bureaucrat’s action amounted to a breach of discipline.

His statements, played up on TV all day, suggested the Centre had washed its hands of Laloo Prasad and was in no mood to get into a confrontation with the Election Commission. By evening, the minister had toned down his stand but still said he had not got the official’s letter.

RJD sources maintained their leader was feeling 'cornered' by the Congress after the Bihar polls where the alliance came apart.

Shortly after the Prime Minister’s speech, Laloo Prasad told reporters: 'I am not making any allegation. I am supporting what L.V. Saptharishi has said. I am not against the commission.'

Asked about Singh’s remarks, he said: 'I am not answerable for what the Prime Minister has said.'

The showcause notice, the government hopes, will show whose side it is on and neutralise the attack from the BJP as well as allay scepticism about the government’s role among opinion-makers.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was reportedly worried that under the UPA government, the authority of constitutional bodies was getting 'undermined'. The members of the poll panel had called on him yesterday to discuss the controversy.

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