From Sangh platform, former chief election commissioner strikes back
Sunil Arora, who headed the Election Commission in 2019 when Narendra Modi stormed back to power and some of the panel’s decisions drew fire, has hit out at those who criticised his role during the general election three years ago.
The former chief election commissioner, who chaired one of the most important constitutional offices in the republic, made the comments from a platform of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ arm of the RSS.
Arora’s strike-back came after he released a book on the history of the ABVP at an event at the Ambedkar International Centre here on Friday.
Referring to a letter written by several retired bureaucrats soon after the polls, Arora said: “They called themselves guardians of democracy…. The second para itself said this had been the least fair and impartial election in the history of democracy. Is there anything more shameful?”
The former chief election commissioner added: “I asked a retired CEC over the phone that ‘I need your guidance in replying to them’. In (a mix of Hindi and) Punjabi, he said: ‘Maine samjha tu siyana munda si (I thought you were a smart boy)’. If you reply to them, they will sit in India International Centre and send you another letter…. That’s the gist of what Gill Sahab said.”
M.S. Gill was chief election commissioner from 1996 to 2001, when governments either supported by the Congress or led by the BJP were in power. In 2008, Gill was inducted into the Union ministry by the then Congress-led UPA government. Gill could not be contacted by this newspaper to verify whether Arora was referring to him.
Jawhar Sircar, former Union culture secretary and now a Trinamul MP in the Rajya Sabha, was one of the signatories to the letter. Sircar told The Telegraph on Friday night in response to a question: “Good that Sunil Arora is finally showing his true political colours…. He acted in the interests of the ruling dispensation….”
A source close to Arora denied that he had any political ambitions, adding that the former chief election commissioner had agreed to attend the event because he had been invited by “academic friends only for a book release”.
Arora, a former Rajasthan-cadre IAS officer who retired as the poll panel chief in 2021, had faced allegations of favouring the BJP when the commission gave clean chits to Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah after they made intemperate remarks during the 2019 campaign.
The clean chits reportedly faced objections from election commissioner Ashok Lavasa who later quit the Election Commission amid suggestions of harassment of his family. Lavasa joined the Asian Development Bank.
On Friday, as advice to the ABVP, Arora said: “You get emotional very fast and do things that you should not.”
At the release of Dhyey Yatra, Arora quoted from the Hindi biography of freedom fighter Mahavir Singh Rathore, titled Vikat Viplavi, by Balbir Singh and Gopal Sharma.
Speaking about one of the authors, Arora said: “He is a senior journalist of our Rajasthan, who was associated with the RSS. I don’t know if he still is. Ayodhya mein bhi woh aage tak pahunch gaye theh (in Ayodhya too, he had reached right in front). As director, public relations, I had made his pass by telling a batch mate of mine.”
The comment drew applause from the audience, who appeared to have inferred that he was referring to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992.
Arora added that during last year’s Bengal polls, he was asked by journalists to comment on the volatility of the state. He added that he feared “a shoe would be thrown” at him during the media conference.
“I replied that there was always volatility in Bengal, which, when harnessed in a certain way, ensured social reforms earlier than in any part of India and gave birth to so many revolutionaries. The same volatility, if not harnessed properly, is the reason you are asking me this question,” Arora recounted.