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India’s Poll Panel Member Quits Weeks Before National Elections

(Bloomberg) -- India’s election commissioner Arun Goel resigned on Saturday, just weeks before the crucial national polls, sparking allegations of a lack of transparency in the country’s constitutional body.

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India’s President Droupadi Murmu accepted the resignation of Goel with effect from March 9, 2024, a law ministry notification said, without specifying the reason for him stepping down. Goel had tenure until Dec. 5, 2027, and was next in line to become the chief election commissioner in February next year.

With Goel’s departure, the poll panel — a constitutional body comprising three members — is now down to just its chief, Rajiv Kumar. The other member, Anup Chandra Pandey, retired last month.

A spokesperson for the election commission could not be reached for comment.

Coming days before the expected announcement of the election schedule, the development has caused concern among the opposition.

Lawmaker Saket Gokhale, the national spokesperson of opposition party All India Trinamool Congress, said in a social media post on X that the vacancies in the poll panel were a cause of concern.

According to a new law, election commissioners are selected by a panel headed by the prime minister, along with a federal minister and the leader of the opposition.

The panel to select new commissioners will meet on March 15, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the opposition Congress party in the lower house and member of the panel, told Bloomberg News.

“His resignation will not impact the election process because you need one member to conduct the election and chief election commissioner is there so they can conduct the Lok Sabha election,” Sunil Fernandes, senior advocate Supreme Court of India said referring to Goel’s departure. Still, there should have been three members to conduct an exercise of this magnitude, he added.

This is the second resignation by an election commissioner under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. In 2020, Ashok Lavasa resigned as election commissioner to join the Asian Development Bank.

He had courted controversy for dissenting against the clean chits given to Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in some of the complaints of violation of model code of conduct in 2019 general elections.

--With assistance from Swati Gupta and Ruchi Bhatia.

(Updates with comment in 9th paragraph.)

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