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Charges are baseless: poll panel

Aarti Dhar

Casteist remarks made, says Saptharishi


"Extraneous grounds" on countermanding Ready to stand by allegation Moral responsibility behind disclosure

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission on Sunday said it was "beneath its dignity" to respond to "scurrilous and baseless allegations" made against it by the former special observer for Bihar during the Lok Sabha elections last year, L.V. Saptharishi, in a letter to Union Law Minister H.R. Bhardwaj.

But Mr. Saptharishi, a senior IAS officer now holding charge as Director-General of the Council for Advancement of People's Action and Rural Technology (CAPART), reiterated his charge with emphasis on the "casteist" remarks made by the Commissioners. He also firmly believed that the Lok Sabha poll in Chapra was countermanded last year on "extraneous grounds." He was ready to stand by his allegations through an affidavit and face cross examination if necessary.

"Reprehensible"

Election Commissioners B.B. Tandon and N. Gopalaswamy and Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy met here on Sunday morning to discuss the issue in the light of the controversy raised by Mr. Saptharishi. They issued a statement deprecating the personal attacks made on the two ECs and K.J. Rao, Adviser to the Commission, as "highly reprehensible.''

Mr. Krishnamurthy said this shocking controversy "should not have happened.'' He was present at the meeting where Mr. Tandon is alleged to have passed "casteist'' remarks about the community to which Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad belongs, but had heard nothing. "Mr. Saptharishi is entitled to his opinion and we to ours,'' he told reporters at the India International Centre, just a little distance away from where Mr. Saptharishi, a 1968 West Bengal cadre officer, was addressing a press conference. "Our decision is open to judicial review and anyone can challenge it,'' he added. He defended the decision to countermand the poll in Chapra.

Mr. Saptharishi also held his ground, telling reporters that there were others present during that Commission meeting who would confirm the remarks made by Mr. Tandon against the community. "Any individual who makes casteist remarks cannot be fit to be the country's Chief Election Commissioner. Mr. Tandon's remarks were endorsed by Mr. Gopalaswamy,'' he said.

He firmly rejected the idea that he had made these allegations in the hope of being rewarded with a post-retirement office. He had gone public with his allegations with a sense of moral responsibility and for the sake of thousands of honest officers who were doing their job with integrity.

Mr. Saptharishi said he believed there was no case for countermanding elections in the entire constituency and that was what he had written in his report.

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