Why Election Commissioner Arun Goel Resigned Weeks Before 2024 Polls

The Election Commission of India, consisting of three members, already had a vacant position, and now, only Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar remains on the poll panel.

According to sources, the Lok Sabha election dates are likely to be announced next week.

New Delhi:

Election Commissioner Arun Goel resigned on Saturday just days before the anticipated announcement of the schedule for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. President Droupadi Murmu officially accepted Mr Goel's resignation, effective immediately, according to a law ministry notification. 

Sources have told NDTV that Mr Goel attributed his resignation to "personal reasons", despite government efforts to dissuade him from stepping down. Speculation regarding health concerns was swiftly dismissed, with top officials stating that Mr Goel was in perfect health. Election Commission sources added that there have been differences on file between Mr Goel and Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar.

The Election Commission of India, consisting of three members, already had a vacant position, and now, only Mr Kumar remains on the poll panel.

A retired bureaucrat, Mr Goel, a 1985-batch IAS officer of the Punjab cadre, joined the Election Commission in November 2022.

According to sources, the Lok Sabha election dates are likely to be announced next week. However, Mr Goel's unexpected departure has cast doubt on the previously anticipated timeline.

What Happens Next

The appointment process for a new CEC involves a search committee, led by the law minister and including two union secretaries, shortlisting five names. Subsequently, a selection committee headed by the Prime Minister, and comprising a Union Cabinet Minister nominated by the PM, the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, or the leader of the single-largest opposition party, selects the final candidate. The President then formally appoints the chosen CEC or EC.

One notable move that preceded Mr Goel's resignation was the enactment of a new law late last year, altering the process of appointing the country's top election officers. Under the revised procedure, the Chief Justice of India was excluded from the selection process.

Who Said What

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge took to social media to question the implications of Mr Goel's sudden departure. He asked whether the current state of affairs warranted renaming the Election Commission to "Election OMISSION". 

"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?" he asked 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!" he added.

"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 KC Venugopal echoed Mr Kharge's concerns. 

"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," he said. 

Mr Venugopal expressed worry about the influence of the government on constitutional bodies, citing the example of Ashok Lavasa's dissent during the 2019 elections and subsequent inquiries. Mr Lavasa had resigned citing dissent on various model code violation decisions during the last Lok Sabha polls.

Trinamool Congress leader Saket Gokhale expressed his concerns that now two appointments are to be made to the poll panel ahead of the general elections.

"In a sudden move, Election Commissioner Arun Goel has abruptly resigned. The post of the other EC is vacant. That leaves the Election Commission now with just one Chief Election Commissioner," he posted on X.