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Mysteries surrounding Arun Goel's resignation

Arun Goel

Ever since the news of the resignation of Central Election Commission member Arun Goel came out on Saturday, speculations and criticism have been active. The present Central Election Commission had only two members - Chief Election Commissioner Rajeev Kumar and the resigned Arun Goel - instead of three. The third member, Anoop Chandra Pandey, retired on February 14 at the age of 65, but no replacement was appointed. Goel's resignation to President Draupadi Murmu was immediately accepted and the Law Ministry issued an official notification. According to the latest reports mostly based on the notification received by its member, Leader of the Opposition Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, it is assumed that the three-member committee to nominate the members of the commission to the President will meet on March 14 or 15.

Also read: Election Commissioner Arun Goel resigns ahead of Lok Sabha polls

The reports that Arun Goel fell out with the Chief Election Commissioner are a bit mysterious. Both of them had been selected for their posiions said position as favorites of the current administration. The new system for the appointment of the Election Commission came into force only last December. Earlier, the government itself was nominating the Chief Election Commissioner and the Commissioners. It was the Supreme Court that ordered a new nomination system in March 2023 in the context of a Public Interest Litigations filed in 2015 and the recommendations of law commissions, and other related commissions in this regard, whereas the Constitution does not specify the exact procedure for it. Accordingly, the Supreme Court order was for a panel consisting of the Chief Justice of India, the Prime Minister, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. to recommend the members of the Election Commission to the President. While laying down this with the objective of ensuring neutrality, the Supreme Court also stated that this provision would continue until legislation is passed. Then Parliament passed a new law regarding this appointment in December last year. This law in effect replaced the Chief Justice from the court-ordered panel with a cabinet minister nominated by the Prime Minister. In short, the government has two members in the three-member committee. With this, the commission became a body that would to implement the will of the government. Arun Goel, who has now resigned came into the Commission through this mechanism.

Also read: We are living in an open democracy: SC says while asking for files of EC's appoinment

A key pre-requisite for an impartial structure and smooth functioning of the Election Commission is that this cornerstone of the democratic process remains a neutrally performing body. However, the recent resignation and the related mysteries have given the commission a tainted impression. While government sources say that the resignation was due to personal reasons, reports indicate that all is not well within the Commission and there were differences of opinion between Goel and the Chief Election Commissioner. He did not attend the Commission's press conference in Kolkata and returned to Delhi the next day. With days to go before the Lok Sabha election notification, and only weeks left before the polls, the reasons for the resignation are unlikely to be trivial. Not only that, there were rumours that Arun Goel was a commissioner that the government was interested in when he was nominated for the post. Things would have been much clearer if the process had been transparently disclosed about the appointment to the vacancy that occurred when Pandey retired in mid-February. The government had a moral obligation to keep the country informed as almost all activities were under central control except for the opposition leader attending the meeting. Like many other constitutional institutions which have been made virtually disabled, now the Election Commission has also been bypassed by the Centre.

Also read: Arun Goel takes charge as Election Commissioner of India

Arun Goel voluntarily had taken voluntary retirement from the civil service shortly before his appointment in November 2022. The hurry shown in that appointment was even subject of disapproval by the Supreme Court. However, the court refused to interfere with the appointment. Goel, who had tenure till 2027, was supposed to become the Chief Commissioner in 2025 as per the seniority order. It would be pertinent to recall the experience of another member in the past, i.e. that of Ashok Lavasa, who was a member of the commission and resigned. It was reported that he did this when he disagreed with the Election Commission giving a clean chit to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah on the complaint of violating the model code of conduct during the 2019 elections; but subsequently Lavasa had to face a lot of investigations after he disagreed. In the the current situation, one has to wait fingers crossed to see who is going to be nominated by the panel comprising the Prime Minister, another minister appointed by him, and the leader of the opposition as commissioners from the shortlist prepared by the law ministry to supervise the crucial elections of the country.

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TAGS:Election CommissionLok Sabha PollsArun Goel
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