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Why election commissioner Ashok Lavasa accepting his new role as VP of Asian Development Bank comes as a shock?

Ashok Lavasa becomes the first Election Commissioner to forgo a chance to become the next Chief Election Commissioner.

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Why an Election Commissioner, who would most likely become the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), throw it away and choose to accept the post of a Vice President at the Asian Development Bank?

Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who had more than two years tenure left in the Election Commission and would have normally been elevated to the post of Chief Election Commissioner by April 2021, decided to do just that.

Both the government’s recommendation of his appointment as Vice President of ADB and Lavasa’s acceptance for his new role leaves scope for troubling questions.

Was it the price of his honesty that earned him the wrath of powerful political figures? The Honesty that he once had talked about in his anguished op-ed in The Indian Express, where he lamented his isolation because he gave a dissenting note to the Election Commission of India (ECI) giving a clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah on charges of violating the model code of conduct during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

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But the CEC Sunil Arora and other Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra did not favour his complaints. So, Ashok Lavasa ended up being the only dissenter and the blue-eyed boy of opposition at that time.

He even refused to attend the EC meetings when his dissent was not recorded. But all of his words fell into the deaf ear and only earned him the noticeable isolation at the hands of those in power.

Soon after when the Bhartiya Janta party won a massive mandate, the following month, in September 2019, Ashok Lavasa’s wife has been served income tax notices. The Enforcement Directorate started targetting his son’s company for alleged violations of foreign exchange laws and getting good venture funds when his father Lavasa was Finance Secretary.

So was it the impending investigation into the affairs of his wife and son the reason for the sensible Ashok Lavasa to flee for Asian Development Bank and escape the investigation?

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However, It is highly unusual for someone to abandon his constitutional duties who once had commented on honesty that “it is not a fetish to be worshipped but something to be practiced”.

He even showed the promise of independence with public declarations like: “The path of honesty, like dharma, is straight yet seldom simple. It often turns out to be tortuous, consumes more energy, sometimes even damaging the vehicle because of unfavourable road conditions. The honest, however, goes on regardless, perhaps driven by an inner force that borders on recklessness,” writes Ashok Lavasa in The Indian Express

Election Commission sources, however, said Lavasa is yet to resign from the poll body as his joining in ADB is only in September.

Ashok Lavasa would be the second election commissioner to step down from the poll panel before the completion of his term. The last time an election commissioner put in his papers was in 1973 when chief election commissioner Nagendra Singh was appointed a judge in the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

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Lavasa, who would have retired as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in October 2022, is an MBA graduate from Southern Cross University in Australia, and an MPhil scholar of Defense and Strategic Studies from the University of Madras, and a 1980 batch IAS officer of Haryana cadre. He joined as Election Commissioner on January 23, 2018.

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