‘Systemic decimation’: Opposition leaders raise suspicion over Arun Goel’s resignation

The Opposition leaders express that Arun Goel will likely be replaced by a “hand-picked yes-man” of the BJP.
Arun Goel
Arun Goel
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The resignation of Arun Goel as the Election Commissioner on Saturday, March 9, just days before the expected announcement of Lok Sabha elections, triggered a political unrest. Alleging lack of transparency, the Opposition has questioned the integrity of the Election Commission of India. The Opposition party leaders have expressed doubts over whether the elections will be held in a free and  fair manner. 

Arun Goel made a sudden announcement on Saturday that he has submitted his resignation, which was accepted by the President. If the Election Commissioner had continued his services he would have been the next Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) after incumbent Rajiv Kumar, who will be retiring in February next year.

Arun Goel was a retired IAS officer. He joined the Election Commission in November 2022. Following the retirement of Anup Pandey in February and Arun Goel’s resignation now, the three-member EC panel has now only CEC Rajiv Kumar on it. 

The Opposition leaders express that Goel will likely be replaced by a  “hand-picked yes-man” of the BJP. 

Reacting to the resignation, 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 a few days. Why?  (sic)” 

He further stressed the need to safeguard institutions from what he termed as “systematic decimation.”  He said, “As I have said earlier, if we do NOT stop the systematic decimation of our independent institutions, our DEMOCRACY shall be usurped by DICTATORSHIP ! ECI will now be among the last Constitutional institutions to fall (sic).” 

“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 the latter's tenure?  The Modi Govt must answer these questions and come out with a reasonable explanation (sic),” he said.

Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal also criticised the lack of transparency in the functioning of the EC. “This is quite shocking; just before the declaration of elections, the Election Commissioner has resigned. Now, only one Election Commissioner is there... What is happening in this Election Commission? The entire country is anxious. The government of India doesn't want a free and fair election,” he said. 

He also compared today’s situation with 2019 Lok Sabha elections when former Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa opposed giving a clean chit to Prime Minister Modi for violating the Model Code of Conduct. “Mr Ashok Lavasa had dissented against a clean chit to the PM for violating the Model Code of Conduct. Later, he faced relentless inquiries. This attitude shows the regime is hell-bent on destroying democratic traditions,” the Congress leader said.

Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale pointed out that the two appointments to the three- member Election Commission would be made just ahead of Lok Sabha polls. Calling it concerning he said, “Under the new law passed by PM Modi, the new commissioner will be appointed by Modi himself and one minister chosen by him with the majority vote. So basically the Modi government will decide who the Election Commissioners are going to be. This has happened days before the Lok sabha elections are going to be announced.”

He further asked, “What sort of pressure was put on Arun Goel? What made him cut short his trip to West Bengal and tender his resignation?”

The Act passed by Parliament in December 2023, has provisions to establish a search committee, led by the Law Minister and two other individuals, each holding a position not lower than a secretary, to compile a list of five candidates for the selection committee’s consideration for the roles of Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and Election Commissioners.

The Bill also outlines the creation of a Selection Committee headed by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and a Union Minister. This committee will make recommendations to the President for the appointment of CEC and Election Commissioners.

Former TMC MP Mahua Moitra questioned why Arun Goel resigned and alleged that he would be replaced by a “hand-picked yes-man.” She said, “Why does EC Arun Goel resign right after ECI’s poll review meeting in Kolkata where he left abruptly? Apparently disagreed with Delhi’s diktat on number of phases & excessive force deployment. Will now be replaced by a hand picked yes man.” 

Kapil Sibal, Rajya Sabha MP from Samajwadi Party, accused the Election Commission of becoming an arm of the government. He added, “The Constitution, which has three pillars - Executive, Legislature, Judiciary, is the base of democracy. The election commission's role is to ensure that the elections are conducted in a free and fair way. However, in the last 10 years, it looks like the election commission has become an extended arm of the government.” 

Further raising suspicion on the timing of Goel's resignation, Kapil Sibal said, “It surely is [surprising]. If at the cusp of an election, which is just a couple of months away, you resign - obviously there is something serious on the basis of which he must have resigned. I can't possibly speculate that reason but obviously there is some element of difference of opinion, especially when his term was still not over."

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