Three reasons cited for resignation of election commissioner Arun Goel

Goel's abrupt resignation and the alacrity with which it was accepted have given rise to intense speculation over his 'differences with CEC'

Arun Goel at Nirvachan Sadan in New Delhi in November 2022 (photo: PTI)
Arun Goel at Nirvachan Sadan in New Delhi in November 2022 (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

Election commissioner Arun Goel was a member of the full commission that visited West Bengal last week to oversee arrangements for the general election.

He did not, however, attend the end-of-visit media briefing. He flew back to New Delhi, ostensibly due to health reasons. He skipped a meeting with the Union home secretary on Friday, 8 March, and sent in his resignation just before the meeting.

The resignation was accepted with alacrity by president Droupadi Murmu and was notified in the gazette on Saturday evening, 9 March, raising lots of eyebrows—since the poll schedule is to be announced around the middle of next week.

In 2019, the poll schedules were announced on 10 March, but this time it was reported that the commission had been asked to delay it by a few days because of the prime minister’s ‘official engagements’. No big-ticket announcement is allowed after the schedule is announced and the model code of conduct kicks in.

Political circles were agog with speculation and it has been said that Arun Goel had voiced his disagreement over poll schedules and security arrangements discussed for the election in West Bengal.

In the past, the Election Commission has been accused of stretching elections far too long and holding them in seven to nine phases. The Opposition has been clamouring for a shorter election and limiting it to 2-3 phases nationally with the election in each state conducted on the same day.

Deployment of central security personnel on poll duty has also been a bone of contention between the Opposition and the Election Commission. There has been speculation that the BJP in West Bengal wants the election to be conducted with the central paramilitary forces solely in charge of security, setting aside the state police.

There are few takers for the health reason cited for the abrupt resignation of Arun Goel—first, because the resignation apparently does not cite it, and secondly, because the election commissioner was fit enough to travel to the states till 5 March and agree to be a part of the full team scheduled to visit Jammu and Kashmir on 11 and 12 March.

The Election Commission of India too could have issued a statement and cited any serious health issue concerning the election commissioner.

Significantly, Arun Goel’s appointment was as sudden as his resignation and equally controversial. He was ‘made to seek premature retirement’ from the IAS in November 2022 and his appointment as election commissioner was notified within 24 hours. This was done when the Supreme Court was already hearing a petition filed by poll watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) about the vacancies in the ECI not being filled up.

Significantly, while Goel’s tenure as election commissioner started in December 2022 and was to last till December 2027 — and he was scheduled to take over as the chief election commissioner in 2025 — for the major part of his roughly 15-month term, the Election Commission refused to meet the Opposition parties and the INDIA alliance in a delegation.

Unattributed sources on Saturday evening also floated the possibility that Goel had resigned because he would be contesting the election from Ludhiana in Punjab. While these unsubstantiated and unverified claims on social media did not cite the name of any political party, it triggered a storm.

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