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Senior Indian election official quits days ahead of vote date announcement

By Aditi Shah and Shivangi Acharya

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -The second-highest official in India's election commission resigned abruptly on Saturday, days ahead of the expected announcement of the date of the country's general election.

Arun Goel's resignation as election commissioner leaves the Election Commission of India with only one of its three mandated top officials in their posts to conduct the world's largest election with more than 960 million registered voters.

The Ministry of Law and Justice said in a gazette notification that Indian President Droupadi Murmu had accepted Goel's resignation, without citing a reason for his departure.

Goel, who took over as election commissioner in November 2022, did not immediately answer calls from Reuters, and a commission spokesperson said he did not know why Goel had stepped down.

Opinion polls have predicted an easy win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the election due by May, which would give him a rare third straight term in office.

The election commission's decisions are taken by majority vote among three commissioners, each with a tenure of six years or up to the age of 65 years, according to its website.

The electoral body is now left only with Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, after Anup Chandra Pandey retired as a commissioner last month, and Goel's resignation drew expressions of concern from several opposition parties.

"India now has only ONE Election Commissioner, even as ... elections are to be announced in few days. Why?" asked Mallikarjun Kharge, president of the main opposition Congress party, on the X social media platform.

He said India needs to stop "the systematic decimation of our independent institutions".

It was not immediately clear if new commissioners could be appointed in time for the election.

Election commissioners are appointed by a panel led by the prime minister, with the leader of opposition in the lower house of parliament and a federal minister nominated by the prime minister acting as its members.

India's constitution authorises the commission to run elections to parliament and state legislatures, as well as to the offices of the country's president and vice president.

(Reporting by Aditi Shah, Shivangi Acharya, Krishna N. Das, Krishn Kaushik and Arpand ChaturvediEditing by Andrew Heavens and Helen Popper)