Election Commission or election omission, asks Congress after Arun Goel resigns as EC

Arun Goel resigned days before the expected announcement of the schedule for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections

Updated - March 10, 2024 12:01 pm IST

Published - March 10, 2024 02:16 am IST - New Delhi

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge. File.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge. File. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Congress on March 9 expressed "deep concern" over Election Commissioner Arun Goel's resignation and said if the "systematic decimation" of independent institutions is not stopped then democracy shall be usurped by dictatorship.

Mr. Goel resigned on Saturday, days before the expected announcement of the schedule for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. His tenure was till December 5, 2027, and he would have become Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) after incumbent Rajiv Kumar retired in February next year.

In a post on X, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said, "Election Commission or Election OMISSION? India now has only one Election Commissioner, even as Lok Sabha elections are to be announced in few days. Why?"

The EC will now be among the last Constitutional institutions to fall, Mr. Kharge claimed.

"Since the new process of selecting the Election Commissioners have now effectively given all the power to the ruling party and the PM, why has the new Election Commissioner not appointed even after 23 days of the completion of latter's tenure? Modi government must answer these questions and come out with a reasonable explanation," the Congress president said.

Congress general secretary organisation K.C. Venugopal said in a post on X, "It is deeply concerning for the health of the world’s largest democracy that Election Commissioner Mr. Arun Goel has resigned on the cusp of the Lok Sabha elections." There is absolutely "no transparency" in how a constitutional institution like the EC has been functioning and the manner in which the government pressures it, he said.

During the 2019 elections, Ashok Lavasa had dissented against a clean chit to the PM for violating the Model Code of Conduct, he said.

"Later, he faced relentless inquiries. This attitude shows the regime is hellbent on destroying democratic traditions. This must be explained, and the EC must be completely non-partisan at all times," Mr. Venugopal said.

According to a Law Ministry notification, Mr. Goel's resignation has been accepted by President Droupadi Murmu with effect from Saturday. It was not immediately known why he stepped down.

Mr. Goel, a retired bureaucrat, was a 1985-batch IAS officer of the Punjab cadre. He had joined the Election Commission in November 2022.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale said it was concerning that two appointments in the three-member EC panel are to be made ahead of the general elections.

Following the retirement of Anup Pandey in February and Mr. Goel’s resignation now, the three-member EC panel has now only Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar on it.

In a post on X after Mr. Goel’s resignation was announced, Mr. Gokhale said, “In a sudden move, Election Commissioner Arun Goel has abruptly resigned. The post of the other EC is vacant. That leaves the Election Commission now with just one Chief Election Commissioner”.

“Modi Govt has introduced a new law where Election Commissioners will now be appointed with a majority vote of PM Modi & one Minister chosen by him,” he said, referring to The Chief Election Commissioner And Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service And Term of Office) Act.

The Act, passed by Parliament in December 2023, has provisions to set up a search committee chaired by the Law Minister and two other persons, not below the rank of secretary, to prepare a panel of five persons for consideration of the selection committee for appointment as CEC or ECs.

The Bill also has provisions for a Selection Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and a Union Minister, to make recommendations to the President for appointment of CEC and other ECs.

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