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AK Joti’s controversial six-month tenure as chief election commissioner to end on Monday

As the head of the poll panel which is mandated to conduct elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies, Joti came under attack by the Opposition for the Commission’s decision to defer polls in Gujarat instead of clubbing it with those in Himachal Pradesh.

india Updated: Jan 21, 2018 22:28 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
AK Joti,Chief election commissioner,Election Commission
Officials who have worked with AK Joti since he joined the election commission in 2015 said that during his term in office he streamlined the e-filing system for maintaining official records and also pushed for transparency in payments.(Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

Achal Kumar Joti’s six-month tenure as the chief election commissioner that ends on Monday was mired in controversy. As the head of the poll panel which is mandated to conduct elections to the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies, Joti came under attack by the Opposition for the Commission’s decision to defer polls in Gujarat instead of clubbing it with those in Himachal Pradesh, and more recently, for the recommendation to the President to disqualify 20 MLAs of the Aam Admi Party for holding an office of profit.

The Opposition parties accused Joti, who served as principal secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his stint as Gujarat chief minister, of partisanship, when the Commission under his charge decided to defer the polls in Gujarat, after accepting the state government’s request for more time to complete relief and rehabilitation efforts after floods ravaged the state.

Interestingly, the Congress was all praise for the poll panel when it disqualified the votes of two Congress rebel lawmakers in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls. It over ruled the returning officer who had declared the votes valid, even though they had showed their marked ballot papers to the rival candidates of the BJP. The EC’s decision eventually saw Congress MP Ahmed Patel win a closely contested election.

The Gujarat government announced a slew of sops in the run up to the polls, including zero-interest loans up to Rs 3 lakh for farmers, permanent jobs for sanitary workers, and infrastructure projects. The Congress alleged that the BJP government appeared to be “putting pressure” on the EC. Its spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala had tweeted at the time that this seemed to be to facilitate the announcement of sops by the prime Minister on his October 16 visit to the state.

More recently, Delhi’s ruling Aam Aadmi Party has accused the commission of not following the due processes before recommending the disqualification of its legislators who were accused of holding an office of profit.

A 1975- batch IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, Joti has maintained a steadfast silence on the accusations levelled against him by the AAP. The party has alleged the Commission headed by him defied the "principles of natural justice", and did not hear the MLAs' case before making a recommendation to the President. EC’s recommendation to the President is binding.

Officials who have worked with Joti since he joined the election commission in 2015 said that during his term in office he streamlined the e-filing system for maintaining official records and also pushed for transparency in payments.

“He was the first CEC who wrote to the authorities to ensure that the para military forces who are deputed for election work are taken care of; whether it is ensuring good food, accommodation and special travel facilities for them or making certain that their dues are paid in time,” said one official, not wishing to be named.

Another official said, Joti “who likes the minutest details to be put on record”, was keen to implement the electronic filing system before his term ended.

Though the commission had reservations about the use of electoral bonds in campaign financing, Joti recently commented that it was a step in the right direction, prompting the opposition to dub it as a volte-face.

Joti also courted controversy when after allegations surfaced that he had not vacated a government bungalow in Gujarat after moving to the Commission. He told Hindustan Times in October that he paid rent for the bungalow after joining the poll panel in Delhi as he was not allotted a family accommodation in the Capital.

First Published: Jan 21, 2018 22:28 IST