'Probe Arun Goel’s exit and SBI reluctance to share electoral bond details first'

Clamour grows for the President to order an inquiry and direct the EC to not announce the poll schedule before it is complete

Hasty exit: former election commissioner Arun Goel (photo: PTI)
Hasty exit: former election commissioner Arun Goel (photo: PTI)

AJ Prabal

Amidst reports that election commissioner Arun Goel had serious differences with the chief election commissioner and sent his resignation directly to the President without marking it to CEC Rajiv Kumar, demands for an ‘inquiry first’ are growing.

With the term of the present Lok Sabha ending on 16 June 2024, the ECI (Election Commission of India) could announce the poll schedule by 27 March or later, depending upon the number of phases it may require to complete the polling.

There is a growing clamour, however, that pending investigations into Goel’s resignation and the State Bank of India’s reluctance to share data on electoral bonds — declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court recently — before 30 June, no election schedule should be announced.  

A caretaker government may function until the inquiry is completed, suggests the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), a body of retired civil servants and diplomats, eminent political scientist Suhas Palshikar, and highly regarded former IAS officer E.A.S. Sarma.

Palshikar took to X to reflect, “Right to information about electoral bonds cannot be an abstract right in a vacuum. It becomes meaningful only if information is available before elections — once the right is recognised by the court…therefore, if SBI is giving the information by 30th June, elections need to take place after that. Till that time, the present govt should be treated as caretaker govt — and barred from using public money for advertisement and disallowed to take policy decisions."

Sarma, too, wrote to President Droupadi Murmu on Sunday, “Pending such an enquiry, your office, invoking the authority under the Constitution, order that (i) no announcement of the election schedule be made by the Election Commission, (ii) no policy decisions/ announcements be made by the political executive, and (iii) no expenditure should be incurred by any political party from the funds received under the EBS.”

Asserting that Goel’s resignation “appears to have been accepted by the government in an undue hurry on the 9th of March, 2024,” Sarma, former secretary to the Union government, in his letter to the President, urged an impartial inquiry by Supreme Court judges into the circumstances leading to the resignation.

He had also written to the President on 7 March, expressing concern at the deviation of the government from the Supreme Court’s directions on the appointment of election commissioners and the necessity of withdrawing BJP nominees from the boards of Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) and the SBI, "evidently to interfere at every stage of the electoral process in one way or the other, which in my view vitiates the sanctity of elections".

Stating that “…the nation expects an independent inquiry into the following questions to a panel of the sitting members of the Supreme Court”, the former secretary posed the following questions for the panel to ask:

  • Did Shri Goel express his dissent on the way the political executive has been trying to interfere with the electoral process in several ways, vitiating its sanctity?

  • Did Shri Goel express doubts about the efficacy of the use of EVMs?

  • Did he express his concern at the way the political executive has pressured the SBI not to disclose the details of the EBS?

  • Was there any proposal from Shri Goel to freeze the residual amounts received by the political parties under the EBS to prevent their use in the ensuing elections?

  • Did Shri Goel propose that BJP’s nominees from the boards of BEL, ECIL and SBI be withdrawn to maintain the sanctity the electoral process?

  • Did Shri Goel express his dissent on any other matter that would have displeased the political executive?

  • Did the highest within the political executive force Shri Goel to tender his resignation to clear the way for the ruling party’s machinations?

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