The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Chief rushes to defend poll panel

New Delhi, May 8: The Election Commission dismissed the allegations levelled against two of its members by a Bengal cadre IAS officer, L.V. Saptharishi, as 'scurrilous and baseless' and defended its decision to countermand the Lok Sabha election in Chhapra last May from where Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav had contested.

Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy denied that his colleagues B.B. Tandon and N. Gopalaswamy had made 'casteist' remarks about Laloo Prasad and his community, as Saptharishi has alleged in a letter to law minister H.R. Bhardwaj. He described the Election Commission as a 'remarkably credible and independent organisation'.

However, the bureaucrat, who was an observer in Bihar during the Lok Sabha polls, stuck to the charges he made.

At a hurriedly convened news conference this morning, Saptharishi said that after he submitted his report on Chhapra, Tandon had asked who the district superintendent of police was and where he came from. 'I said he is a Yadav, maybe from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. Then Tandon reacted and said, no matter where he is from, all Yadavs are the same.'

The official claimed Gopalaswamy had said: 'We will have to take some drastic steps against Laloo Prasad Yadav.'

Saptharishi said he is going public with allegations after a year as Tandon is becoming the poll panel chief, adding that he is ready to file sworn affidavits. The bureaucrat denied he wrote the letter because he could not become a secretary. Saptharishi is due to retire in two months.

Krishnamurthy today sprang to the defence of Tandon and Gopalaswamy. 'They were sitting close to me (when Saptharishiís report on Chhapra was being discussed). I know what remarks they have been making. Why should such a statement be made' I have not heard any such casteist remarks,' the chief election commissioner said.

Venue row

On a day of high drama, which started with an emergency meeting of the poll panel in the morning, Krishnamurthy and Saptharishi nearly came face to face at the India International Centre. The CEC was having lunch at the IIC around the same time that the bureaucrat was addressing the media.

Ten minutes into the conference, IIC general secretary Lalit K. Joshi walked in and asked Saptharishi who gave him permission to hold the event. The bureaucrat said the place was booked by a member. 'You are using this place unauthorisedly,' Joshi said.

As Saptharishi was about to get into his car, Krishnamurthy emerged and spoke to the media. 'I canít comment,' he said when asked if Saptharishiís allegations were made at the behest of Laloo Prasad.

'Just because one person takes a view, that does not mean the EC is wrong. All decisions are taken unanimously. All decisions are on the basis of factual information and analysis of reports received. And this tendency to denigrate the EC is strongly condemned by me,' Krishnamurthy said.

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