Two new election commissioners to be appointed on March 15

The panel meeting on March 15 to finalise the names is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has a Union minister and the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Two new election commissioners to be appointed on March 15

New Delhi | The prime minister-chaired high-powered committee will meet on March 15 to finalise the names of new election commissioners, top sources said.

Two vacancies of election commissioners came about following the resignation of Arun Goel on Saturday and Anup Chandra Pandey's retirement last month.

The panel is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and has a Union minister and the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. It will meet on March 15 and name the persons for appointment as election commissioners.

The election commissioners will be appointed by the president.

The sources said the appointment of two new election commissioners is likely to be made by March 15 to fill the vacancies created by Pandey's retirement and Goel's surprise resignation.

They said the notice for the meeting was sent on Saturday afternoon, before Goel's resignation in the evening.

The sources added that during the meeting, two appointments of election commissioners are likely to be made against one, as anticipated earlier.

Days before the poll panel is expected to announce the schedule for the Lok Sabha polls, Goel resigned on Friday morning. His resignation was accepted by President Droupadi Murmu on Saturday and the Law Ministry issued a notification to announce it.

This leaves Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar as the sole member of the poll authority.

Pandey had demitted office on February 14 on attaining the age of 65 years.

A search committee under Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal and comprising the Home Secretary and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) Secretary will first prepare two separate panels of five names each for the two posts.

Later, a selection committee headed by the prime minister and comprising a Union minister and Leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury will then name two persons for appointment as election commissioners.

The election commissioners will be appointed by the President.

Sources said the selection committee could meet either on March 13 or 14 depending on the convenience of the members and the appointments are likely to be made by March 15.

Before a new law on the appointment of CEC and ECs came into force recently, the election commissioners were appointed by the President on the government's recommendation and as per custom, the senior-most was appointed as CEC.

Clause 2 of Article 324 of the Constitution states that the Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time to time fix.

Responding to questions on reasons behind Goel's resignation, the sources said he might have resigned due to personal reasons.

They also rejected suggestions that there were differences between Goel and Kumar, saying records of internal communication, minutes and decisions show there was no dissent recorded by Goel.

If seasoned bureaucrats brainstorm on an issue, there are bound to be differences in opinion and perception. These cannot be described as differences, they added.

Goel, who tendered resignation on Friday morning, did not attend the crucial meeting between the EC and top home ministry and railway officials to firm up deployment and movement of central forces across India for poll duty.

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

Ashok Lavasa had resigned as election commissioner in August 2020. He had given dissent notes on various model code violations decisions taken by the EC in the last Lok Sabha polls.

Originally, the commission had only a CEC. It currently consists of the CEC and two election commissioners.

Two additional commissioners were first appointed on October 16, 1989, but they had a very short tenure till January 1, 1990. Later, on October 1, 1993, two additional election commissioners were appointed.

The concept of a multi-member EC has been in operation since then, with decision made by a majority vote.

Did Arun Goel resign as EC due to differences with CEC or Modi govt, ask Oppn parties

New Delhi | A day after Arun Goel resigned as election commissioner, the Congress and other opposition parties on Sunday asked whether he did so due to any differences with the chief election commissioner or the Narendra Modi government.

Taking potshots at the BJP, some opposition leaders also wondered if Goel resigned to contest the Lok Sabha polls on its ticket like former Calcutta High Court judge Abhijit Gangopadhyay.

"The resignation of Arun Goel as Election Commissioner last evening raises three questions," Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said.

"Did he actually resign over differences with the Chief Election Commissioner or with the Modi Government, which does the front-seat driving for all supposedly independent institutions? Or did he resign for personal reasons?

"Or did he, like the Calcutta High Court Judge a few days back, resign to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket," Ramesh said in a post on X.

The Congress leader said the Election Commission has for eight months now refused to meet with INDIA parties on the issue of the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) that is essential to prevent "electronic voting manipulation".

"Each passing day in Modi's India deals an added blow to democracy and democratic institutions," he alleged.

Asked about Goel's resignation, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said one has to wait to see what he does in the coming days.

"I was thinking that after the high court judge resigned and joined the BJP the next day and started abusing the TMC. It shows that the BJP has appointed people with such a mindset.

"Now the election commissioner has resigned, let us wait for some time to see what he does," he said.

Addressing a rally in Kolkata, where the Trinamool Congress (TMC) unveiled its candidate lineup for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee praised Goel for "not succumbing" to what she described as BJP's attempts at "coercion".

"I salute Arun Goel for not succumbing to pressure by Delhi leaders and his top bosses in connection with the West Bengal Lok Sabha polls and the deployment of forces. It is proven that what they want to do in the name of the election. They want to loot votes," the TMC supremo alleged, targeting the BJP.

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut alleged the Election Commission has become an "extended branch of the BJP".

It is not the same Election Commission that it was during TN Seshan's time, which functioned as a watchdog over the elections and remained impartial, he claimed.

"In the last 10 years, the Election Commission has been privatised. It has become a branch of the BJP," he alleged.

He said two people have gone and only one remains in the Election Commission.

"Like BJP's people have been appointed in high courts, Supreme Court, Governor's house, in the same manner, they would appoint two of their BJP people here too," Raut claimed.

Ramesh said, "It is possible that Arun Goel resigned to contest elections on a BJP ticket".

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said it was "alarmed" by Goel's resignation just ahead of the general elections and demanded the Union government provide a clear statement on the circumstances in which this situation has emerged.

The party said that this creates "an atmosphere of uncertainty" on the eve of the elections to the 18th Lok Sabha. "With the new law on appointment of ECs, the composition of the Election Commission is under the complete control of the government," the CPI(M) said in a statement.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav claimed that several times during the BJP rule officials have had to leave their job due to pressure.

"The resignation (of Arun Goel) raises questions as to who is putting pressure on the Election Commission," the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister said.

AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi demanded answers from Goel and the government over the resignation just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

"It would be better if he (Arun Goel) himself or the government would tell the reason behind the resignation ahead of the Lok Sabha elections," he said.

TMC leader Saket Gokhla asked, "Why did Election Commissioner Arun Goel abruptly resign last night just after cutting short his trip to Bengal with the ECI."

"What explains this sudden mystery days before the elections? This is a part of the 'chronology' of Modi's & BJP's dirty tricks to steal votes in Bengal," he alleged.

The "anti-Bengal outsider zamindars of the BJP are rattled" because Bengal has constantly rejected them, he claimed.

He said, "In the face of a certain defeat, they've tried everything including depriving Bengal of its rightful financial dues, sending 100s of companies of central forces to Bengal before the elections and influencing a sitting HC judge who resigned".

Gokhale alleged that the BJP "forced" Goel to "abruptly resign so that Modi and his one chosen minister get to appoint two out of three Election Commissioners days before Lok Sabha polls are announced".

Independent MP Kapil Sibal said it was a worrying development.

"Way cleared to: Pack the Commission with Yes men. This applies to all institutions that are the foundations of our Republic!" he said on X.

"To abruptly resign like this at the cusp of the Lok Sabha elections is something we should be worried about, because normally this would not happen. Maybe the reasons cited by him that he has resigned for personal reasons are genuine. But, it is unlikely...," Sibal said.

"There is also a possibility that there was some element of disagreement between him and the chief election commissioner in the context of elections in West Bengal. I do not know the real reason, but that is speculation.

He alleged institutions in this country, including the Election Commission which is constitutionally obliged to ensure a free and fair elections, are being "slowly decimated".

"And, it has been decimated over the years and in the last ten years they have captured almost all institutions in this country," the former union minister said, adding that the Election Commission is also one such victim.

"In the last 10 years, it looks like the Election Commission has become an extended arm of the government," he also said.

TMC MP Sagarika Ghose said, "Now on the eve of elections, an election commissioner - Arun Goel - has actually resigned. What message does this send about the world's largest democracy?".

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 the retirement of incumbent Rajiv Kumar in February next year.

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

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

Following the retirement of Anup Chandra Pandey in February and Goel's resignation, the three-member EC now has only one member - CEC Rajiv Kumar.

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