The crisis sparked by the recommendation of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), N Gopalswamy, to the President of India that Election Commissioner (EC) Navin Chawla be relieved of his post due to partisanship has confronted the political system with its moment of truth. Forget the merits or demerits of the CEC's move. The issue is larger.
The BJP had earlier petitioned for the removal of the EC on a similar charge of partisanship. The BJP naturally supports the CEC's demand that Chawla be removed from his post. It ridicules the government's right to decide the issue. The government is an interested party in the dispute. That is reasonable. The BJP claims that only the CEC's writ should be binding.
However, the CEC's contention is being criticized by the UPA government for being politically motivated. In the event how can the CEC decide the issue when he himself is being accused of a motivated ruling? The government's objection is reasonable.
So how can the issue be credibly resolved? The answer is obvious. The President of India should decide whether or not the CEC's recommendation should be accepted. No politician or jurist will dare state that. If the President can ignore the advice of the cabinet on this one issue the door will be opened for her to exercise the same right on a host of issues outside the normal advice on executive decisions tendered to her by the cabinet. In other words the President would then start to function according to the responsibilities and rights explicitly assigned to her in our written Constitution and through her oath of office. The wholly unwarranted description of the President as a ceremonial titular head will be exposed as a blatant distortion of our written Constitution. It matters little if a flawed Supreme Court judgment endorsed this mistaken view. Supreme Court judges are human. They have made untold errors through various rulings. At times the Supreme Court has overturned its own past rulings.
The diminution of the President's role to that of the cabinet's dummy has destroyed some necessary checks to executive excess that fatally damage our political system. That is why effective governance is disappearing. That is why our political system is crumbling. That is why democracy is rapidly declining. Our explicit and unambiguous Constitution needs to be reinterpreted. It needs to be liberated from whimsically imposed conventions that have no bearing in law. The role of the President must be reappraised in the light of the Constitution's text. It may continue to be distorted by irrational and arbitrary assumptions of politicians only at grave peril to India's democracy.