New Delhi: Two rather major developments took place at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on January 21. One was the upholding of the Election Commission’s recommendation of disqualifying 20 AAP MLAs for holding ‘Office of Profit’ and the other was the appointment of Om Prakash Rawat as the new Chief Election Commissioner.
Just days ahead of his retirement, CEC Achal Kumar Joti has thrown the Capital open to another round of possible elections with the ruling AAP on the verge of losing 20 of its MLAs, which would bring down their total strength in the Delhi Assembly to 46.
However, Rawat, had in 2017, disassociated himself from the ‘Office of Profit’ cases of AAP, after Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal levelled allegations of the poll panel not being ‘neutral’ in its approach.
A former joint secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Rawat was appointed Election Commissioner in August 2015. He will be the 22nd Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India.
The retired IAS officer, in an earlier interview with News18, had discussed the many advantages of ‘One Nation One Poll’, which has been on the agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party government for quite some time now.
“Holding simultaneous elections would help save a lot of money, especially for the political parties who can do their campaigning only once. Also, the model code of conduct that imposed before every election, poses several constraints in the way of smooth governance, which can be done away with,” Rawat had said.
Rawat, a 1977-batch former IAS officer, has earlier served the government in several important roles. In May 1994, he was a United Nations election observer in South Africa overseeing the first post-apartheid elections. He has also served as the Collector in Narsinghpur (1983-86) and Indore (1986-88).
After returning from Africa, he held the posts of Commissioner (Women & Child Development), Registrar (Co-operative Societies), Secretary (Cooperation), Secretary (Agriculture) and State Excise Commissioner in Madhya Pradesh.
Recently, Rawat brought to notice how public relation firms are being used to shape public opinion on social media and called out for the need to recognize social media as "media".
“It has come to the notice of the Commission that PR firms are being actively deploying social media handlers to shape public opinion online. I am happy to state that the ECI is formulating its social media policy and we are hopeful that it is likely to address these issues," Rawat had said.
In April 2010, Rawat, while serving as a Principal Secretary of the SC/ST Welfare Department in the Madhya Pradesh government, received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Administration, for an innovative group initiative, “Recognition of Forest Rights”.
The new CEC also holds the view that over time, winning elections at all costs and devoid of any ethics is slowly becoming the norm.
“Democracy thrives when elections are free, fair and transparent. However, it appears to a cynical common man that we have been scripting a narrative that places the maximum premium on winning at all costs which can even lead to a complete exclusion of all ethical considerations," Rawat observed after last year’s political drama in Gujarat where the EC had cancelled the votes of two Congress MLAs during the Rajya Sabha elections for violating secrecy norms resulting in a win for Congress’ Ahmed Patel with marginal votes.
On the other hand, former finance secretary Ashok Lavasa has been appointed Election Commissioner to fill up Rawat’s seat in the three-member poll panel. Sunil Arora is the other Election Commissioner.
Rawat's tenure will expire in December 2018 and Arora, the senior-most commissioner after the CEC, is expected to take over as the next head of the Election Commission.
Lavasa has earlier been part of the several elections in fourteen states of Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Puducherry, Assam, and others.