Giving in to the demand for removal of Mizoram Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) S B Shashank, the Election Commission (EC) on Thursday replaced him with Ashish Kundra, a 1996-batch IAS officer. Kundra was selected from a panel of five officers suggested by the state government this week. Shashank is now attached with the EC till further orders.
The EC initiated the process of finding Shashank’s replacement on November 10, when it asked the state government to share a panel of three names for the post. The move came a day after a high-level team, led by Deputy Election Commissioner Sudeep Jain, met representatives of civil society groups in Mizoram who were demanding Shashank’s removal.
This week, the EC asked the state chief secretary for another two names, in addition to the three already suggested, following which Kundra’s appointment was announced as the new CEO on Thursday.
With this, the EC has accepted the two core demands of the civil society groups in the state. The EC, The Indian Express has learnt, has also agreed to arrange for the displaced Bru voters to cast their votes in Mizoram, along the state’s border with Tripura. The final location of the voting booths is to be decided.
As first reported by The Indian Express on November 1, Shashank had complained to the EC of “direct interference” by the state in the preparation for polls, following which the poll panel ordered the removal of Mizoram Principal Secretary (Home Department) L Chuaungo.
— Ritika Chopra (@KhurafatiChopra) November 15, 2018
Chuaungo’s removal irked the state government, political parties and civil society groups of the state. Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla had also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding Shashank’s removal. In his complaint, Shashank had alleged insensitivity on the part of the state regarding voting rights of the displaced Bru community living in relief camps in Tripura, and referred to the “active role” played by Chuaungo in the revision of electoral rolls and deployment of central security forces.
Over 30,000 Brus were displaced from Mizoram 21 years ago following ethnic clashes. Many of them are living in six camps in the Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of North Tripura.
The Brus want polling booths to be set up at the camps, saying that they fear a law-and-order problem if they go to Mizoram to vote. But civil society groups in Mizoram say no electoral process of the state should be conducted outside.
The EC had defended Shashank and its decision to replace Chuaungo. It had justified the decision to remove Chuaungo in its letter to the office of the Mizoram Chief Minister sent on November 5. The decision to transfer Chuaungo, the EC said, was taken “after observing in great detail the sequence of events over the past two months”.
Two letters sent by Chuaungo seem to have upset the EC.
On September 13, he wrote to district election officers of Mamit, Lunglei and Kolasib, directing that “the identification slips issued to Reang (Bru) migrants living in Tripura transit camps during November 2016 are to be used solely for the purpose of repatriation and rehabilitation of the Reang (Bru) migrants and shall not be used for any other purposes”. A copy of this letter was marked to the CEO. This, the EC felt, showed that the state government was not keen to have new Bru voters enrolled.
On October 15, Chuaungo wrote to the CEO, seeking clarification on the number of Central Armed Police Force personnel deployed for polls, and asked why the home department was not consulted before deciding the requirement. This was seen as “direct interference” in the poll process, since the EC and CEO are under no obligation to consult the incumbent government on such matters.