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Election Commission inexperienced to handle 2019, fear former poll body chiefs

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Sunil Arora, who will take charge as chief election commissioner in December, will have overseen just 10 assembly polls by the time the general elections roll in. That’s less than half the experience his predecessors had in 2009 and 2014.

New Delhi: A few former chief election commissioners have expressed concern about the fact that a relatively inexperienced brass would lead the country’s apex poll body into next year’s Lok Sabha election. The report comes at a time when doubts have been raised about the conduct of the Election Commission (EC).

The issue was raised at a closed-door meeting chief election commissioner O.P. Rawat and the two election commissioners, Sunil Arora and Ashok Lavasa, had with former EC chiefs on 21 May.

By the time the 2019 general election is held, the chief election commissioner will have overseen only 10 assembly elections — less than half the experience his predecessors had in 2009 and 2014.

‘Very difficult’

Arora, the most senior election commissioner, will take charge as chief election commissioner in December 2018, when Rawat demits office. He joined the Election Commission in September last year, which means he will have spent less than two years in office before the 2019 polls.

Lavasa, who will be the second most senior official in the EC after Arora’s elevation, will have supervised even fewer elections, having assumed office only on 23 January this year. The remaining election commissioner, meanwhile, will be appointed in December.

The former chief election commissioners who participated at the meeting last week included M.S. Gill, J.M. Lyngdoh, T.S. Krishnamurthy, B.B. Tandon, S.Y. Quraishi, V.S. Sampath, H.S. Brahma and Nasim Zaidi, with former election commissioner GVG Krishnamurthy also in attendance.

“Some former chief election commissioners raised this concern since it can get very difficult to hold elections with an experience of a few months or one year. You need some thoroughness and about three to five years of experience to hold national-level elections,” said one of the former EC chiefs.

However, Arora, a former IAS officer, said the government had not laid down any guidelines to dictate the number of elections that qualified EC officials to oversee a national election. “As IAS officers, we routinely join new jobs and try our best to learn,” he added.

Low on numbers?

So far in his stint at the commission, Arora has overseen assembly elections in six states, including Gujarat, where the body’s conduct came under severe criticism. Four others — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram — are due to go to the polls before the 2019 general election.

In contrast, V.S. Sampath had overseen 25 assembly elections as a member of the election commission by the time he presided over the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

The election before, in 2009, is the only one in India’s history to have been overseen by two chief election commissioners, Navin Chawla and N. Gopalaswami. A total of 23 and 31 assembly elections, respectively, had been conducted on Chawla and Gopalaswami’s watch before the Lok Sabha polls.

Gopalaswami said the number of elections a chief election commissioner had presided over before conducting the general election was a “non-issue”. “What matters is how much you are able to benefit from the institutional memory of the commission since the issues remain the same,” he added.

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  1. When Mr T N Seshan was appointed as CEC he had no previous experience in conducting elections. The oldies always think our days were better.

  2. It is the institution that matters, more than the individuals who serve it. The ECI has about nine months in hand to plan for a flawless general election. Issues have arisen about the EVMs / VVPATs, which should be resolved, taking political parties into confidence. A reversion to paper ballots should not be ruled out; the only downside is that it takes a few hours longer to count the votes. The ECI and the RBI are respected institutions. A special effort should be made to leave no space for someone to question the impartiality and neutrality of the umpire.

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