Packing commission with yes men: Opposition demands explanation for Goel exit

Congress says if the systematic decimation of independent institutions is not stopped, democracy shall be usurped by dictatorship

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)

Abhijit Chatterjee

A day after election commissioner Arun Goel's sudden resignation, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut on Sunday claimed the Election Commission of India (ECI) is no longer an autonomous watchdog, but works as an extended branch of the ruling BJP at the Centre.

The NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) faction led by Sharad Pawar said Goel's sudden resignation ahead of the Lok Sabha polls appeared "suspicious".

These were among numerous Opposition voices expressing alarm and concern at the sudden move by Goel, who resigned as election commissioner on Saturday, just days before the expected announcement of the schedule for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Expressing "deep concern" over Goel's resignation, the Congress said if the "systematic decimation" of independent institutions is not stopped, then democracy shall be usurped by dictatorship.

Many Opposition parties, including the Congress, called upon the Central government to come out with a “reasonable explanation” for the sudden move. Goel's tenure was to last until 5 December 2027, and he would have become chief election commissioner once incumbent CEC Rajiv Kumar retired in February 2025.

"Election Commission or Election OMISSION? India now has only one Election Commissioner, even as Lok Sabha elections are to be announced in few days. Why?" asked Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge in a post on X. "As I have said earlier, if we do not stop the systematic decimation of our independent institutions, our democracy shall be usurped by dictatorship!"

The ECI will now be among the last Constitutional institutions to fall, Kharge claimed. "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 latter's tenure? Modi government must answer these questions and come out with a reasonable explanation," the Congress president said.

Congress general-secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal also posted on X, saying "it is deeply concerning for the health of the world's largest democracy that Election Commissioner Mr. Arun Goel has resigned on the cusp of the Lok Sabha elections".

There is absolutely "no transparency" in how a Constitutional institution like the ECI has been functioning, and the manner in which the "government pressures it", he said.

During the 2019 elections, Ashok Lavasa had dissented against a clean chit to the PM for violating the model code of conduct, Venugopal pointed out. "Later, he faced relentless inquiries. This attitude shows the regime is hellbent on destroying democratic traditions. This must be explained, and the ECI must be completely non-partisan at all times," Venugopal said.

Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress MP Saket Gokhale said the move was "very, very concerning”, reported India Today. In his post on X, Gokhale said, "This is a part of the "chronology" of Modi's & BJP's dirty tricks to steal votes in Bengal. The anti-Bengal outsider zamindars of the BJP are rattled because Bengal has constantly rejected them."

Reacting to Goel's departure, Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal questioned the impartiality of the Election Commission of India. In a post of X, Sibal said, “Way cleared to: Pack the Commission with Yes men. This applies to all institutions that are the foundations of our Republic !”

Congress general-secretary Jairam Ramesh described Goel's resignation as an attack on the Constitution. "The Election Commission has for 8 months now refused to meet with INDIA parties on the issue of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) that are so very essential to prevent Electronic Voting Manipulation (EVM). Each passing day in Modi’s India deals an added blow to democracy and democratic institutions," Ramesh said in a post on X.

Senior Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Manoj Jha also expressed worry about the development. In his post on X, Jha said, "The news is coming that the Election Commissioner #अरुणगोयल has resigned, probably just a week before the announcement of the general elections to the Lok Sabha. Such resignations raise doubts whether the elections will be free and fair. Art. 324 is also moaning whether I will become a slave but who to complain to?"

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, a retired bureaucrat, was a 1985-batch IAS officer of the Punjab cadre, who joined the ECI in November 2022.

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

With PTI inputs

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