India’s opposition slams gov’t as top election official quits ahead of vote

Arun Goel’s resignation leaves the poll body with only one of three mandated officials to conduct the election, due by May.

India Election Commission
People walk past the Election Commission of India office building in New Delhi [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

India’s main opposition party has accused the government of “systematic decimation of independent institutions” after the second-highest election commission official resigned days ahead of the expected announcement of the date of the general election.

Arun Goel’s resignation as election commissioner on Saturday leaves the Election Commission of India (ECI) with only one of its three mandated top officials in their posts to conduct the world’s largest election with more than 960 million registered voters.

The Ministry of Law and Justice said in a gazette notification that President Droupadi Murmu had accepted Goel’s resignation, without citing a reason for his departure.

Goel, who took over as election commissioner in November 2022, has not yet made a public statement on his resignation. An election commission spokesman said he did not know why Goel had stepped down.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a rare third straight term in office in the general election, due by May.

‘Democracy usurped by dictatorship’

The main opposition Congress party said Goel’s resignation was a concern and demanded answers from Modi’s government.

“Election Commission or Election OMISSION? India now has only one Election Commissioner, even as [general] elections are to be announced in a few days. Why? As I have said earlier, if we do not stop the systematic decimation of our independent institutions, our democracy shall be usurped by dictatorship,” Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge posted on X.

“Since the new process of selecting the Election Commissioners has 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 election commission’s decisions are taken by majority vote among three commissioners, each with a tenure of six years or up to the age of 65 years, according to its website.

Goel’s resignation leaves the electoral body only with Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, after Anup Chandra Pandey retired as a commissioner last month.

It was not immediately clear if new commissioners could be appointed in time for the election. The appointment is conducted by a panel led by the prime minister, with the leader of the opposition in the lower house of parliament and a federal minister nominated by the prime minister acting as its members.

India’s constitution authorises the commission to run elections to parliament and state legislatures, as well as to the offices of the country’s president and vice president.

Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal said Goel’s resignation suggested the government was putting pressure on the poll panel ahead of the vote.

“There is absolutely no transparency in how a constitutional institution like the ECI has been functioning and the manner in which the government pressurises them,” he posted on X.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies