‘Differences’ with Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar may have led to Arun Goel’s resignation

The CEC had mentioned that Mr. Goel had returned to Delhi due to ‘health concerns’. However, sources close to Mr. Goel dismissed it and maintained ‘he is in the pink of health’

March 10, 2024 03:35 pm | Updated 11:32 pm IST - AHMEDABAD

Arun Goel (left) and Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar.

Arun Goel (left) and Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

The sudden and unexpected resignation of Election Commissioner (EC) Arun Goel barely a week before the announcement of the Lok Sabha election came as a surprise to many, but insiders in the poll body have pointed out that apparent differences emerged between the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar and the EC during their West Bengal visit to oversee the preparations for the parliamentary elections. 

According to well-placed sources, Mr. Goel refused to attend the press conference in Kolkata to brief the media about the preparations in West Bengal, which has the third largest number of parliamentary seats (42 seats) after Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, after he reportedly differed with Mr. Kumar who addressed the media alone on March 5. 

In the press briefing, the CEC did mention that Mr. Goel had returned to Delhi due to “health concerns”. However, sources close to Mr. Goel have dismissed that and maintained “he is in the pink of health”. 

“He flew back to Delhi cutting short his visit in West Bengal owing to some serious differences,” the sources maintained. 

However, it is not known and sources also did not elaborate further about what transpired between the two officials and their differences and exactly on which issues they differed. Mr. Goel had tenure till November 2027 and he would have become the CEC next year. 

In Delhi, he attended the Lok Sabha election related meetings with Mr. Kumar at the Election Commission of India (ECI) headquarters on March 7. 

However on March 8, he reportedly skipped attending a meeting between ECI brass and Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla regarding the election preparations and instead sent his resignation to the President of India without informing the CEC. 

‘Attempts to reconcile differences’

“There were attempts from the government to dissuade him and reconcile their differences but he remained firm on his exit,” officials in the government said. 

His resignation was accepted by the President on March 9 and the Ministry of Law and Justice issued a gazette notification stating that Mr. Goel’s resignation was accepted with effect from the same day. 

“Except perhaps the CEC and other highest ranking officials in the government, nobody even within the ECI had an inkling about the abrupt decision of resignation of Mr. Goel till the gazette notification was issued,” claimed multiple sources in the government and the ECI. 

Ashok Lavasa’s resignation

In the ECI, the development reminded the officials of the circumstances that had led to the sudden resignation of EC Ashok Lavasa on August 18, 2020. While Mr. Lavasa’s resignation had come into effect 13 days later on August 31, in Mr. Goel’s case, it became effective from the same day. 

Mr. Lavasa was sent to the Asian Development Bank after his exit from the ECI. 

‘Straight forward official’

Within the bureaucracy in Delhi, Mr. Goel’s reputation is that of a “straight forward official who goes by the rules.” In a post on microblogging site X, a retired secretary in the government and Mr. Goel’s batchmate Sanjeev Gupta compared his resignation as fast as his appointment in the poll body in November 2022. 

“A resignation of #electioncommissioner as fast as the appointment of Arun Goel (on a single day November 18, 2022). Raises serious questions about independence of @ECISVEEP @SpokespersonECI. All of us batchmates are simply wonderstruck at what’s happening. No response from him,” Mr. Gupta’s post on X said. 

In the central administration before his appointment in the ECI, he had served as the Vice-Chairman of the Delhi Development Authority and as Secretary, Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Heavy Industries, both being seen as “non-mainstream positions or average positions” by the bureaucrats. 

The ECI consisting of three members, already had a vacant position when the tenure of Anup Chandra Pandey ended last month, and now, only the Mr. Kumar remains on the poll panel.

EC appointment process

Now, the government will have to move fast to fill in the two vacancies in the three-member body. The appointment process for a new EC involves a search committee, led by the Law Minister and including two Union Secretaries, shortlisting five names. 

Subsequently, the shortlisted names are placed before a selection committee headed by the Prime Minister, and comprising a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, or the leader of the single-largest Opposition party, for final selection. 

The President then formally appoints the chosen CEC or EC based on the final selection by the Prime Minister-led committee. 

It may be noted that the National Democratic Alliance government enacted a new law last year, altering the process of appointing the ECs and CEC as laid down by the Supreme Court, which had suggested a collegium consisting of the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the Leader of the Opposition. 

Under the revised procedure adopted by the government in the new law, the Chief Justice of India was excluded from the selection process.

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