Who will be our next Chief Election Commissioner? Precedent—and seniority—demand that it be T.S. Krishnamurthy. But if the BJP-led NDA has its way, former cabinet secretary T.R. Prasad could be foisted as the head of the three-member poll panel. At the end of a week of suspense, with political parties already in election mode, the government has put off the decision, triggering confusion and leaving Nirvachan Sadan—the office of the EC—in a state of limbo.
The expected elevation of Krishnamurthy to CEC—by virtue of being the seniormost Election Commissioner—following present incumbent J.M. Lyngdoh's retirement on February 7 was taken as a given. This, because ever since the EC became a multi-member body in the mid-'90s, the government has been promoting the seniormost member as the CEC. It began when M.S. Gill took over from T.N. Seshan in 1996 and when Lyngdoh succeeded him in 2001.
But when a coterie within the NDA sought to give 'tradition' a go-by and project an alternative in the form of Prasad, currently a member of the 12th Finance Commission, it raised an alarm. The government's apparent reasoning: since the post of the CEC was a constitutional one, coming under the administrative jurisdiction of the prime minister, he should be given a free hand to select an 'appropriate' candidate. Not only that, Prasad's candidature reportedly had the backing of deputy PM L.K. Advani and finance minister Jaswant Singh. Bolstering their case, law ministry officials have argued that the elevation of the seniormost EC for the top job had no "statutory value".
Sources close to Krishnamurthy told Outlook that he'd rather quit than see the precedent of seniority being bypassed in his case. In fact, there is talk of the other election commissioner, B.B. Tandon, following suit, in solidarity with his colleague. Understandably so, say EC...