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Quraishi: First Muslim CEC

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi assumed charge as the new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) of India on July 30, taking over from Navin Chawla who held the post for one and a half years. Quraishi (63), a 1971 Indian Administrative Services (IAS) officer, will hold the post as 17th CEC for a little over two years. He is the first Muslim to take charge as CEC. With 35 years experience in civil service, Quraishi has served as Election Commissioner for more than four years. “I feel deeply honored on being entrusted with this assignment. Election Commission of India is an institution in which the nation places a great trust. It would be my utmost endeavor to prove myself worthy of this trust,” Quraishi said.

The new CEC’s priorities include achieving a “perfect electoral roll.” “Enhancing voters’ participation and restricting role of money power in elections are among the emerging challenges” before the Election Commission, Quraishi said. “We are already working systematically to achieve a perfect electoral roll at the earliest,” he said. The Commission is considering areas on which it could focus to strengthen checks and controls to prevent misuse of money power, Quraishi said. The Commission had held discussions among expenditure observers on this, he pointed out. “We will come out with detailed guidelines. They are being fine tuned. By the end of August, they would have been in place. We hope we will be able to tighten our control on the use of money power,” he said. Quraishi favors setting up an expenditure monitoring division that will be manned by Indian Revenue Service officers. “We will staff it properly and give it more teeth,” he said. Describing paid news, used extensively for campaigns, as detrimental to democracy, he said: “The phenomenon is not limited to elections. But we would like to appeal to media houses to be more vigilant.”

Quraishi is also in favor of constitutional reforms in the Election Commission, particularly regarding Chief Election Commissioner’s power to remove an officer on the basis of complaints. Expressing his stand on this, he said: “One equal cannot ask for the removal of another equal.” As this is “not very healthy for institutions,” the government should bring about a constitutional reform on this, he said.

While working as EC, Quraishi favored a separate division working for larger participation of people as voters. Now, as the CEC, he plans a national consultation on voter participation. “The health of the electoral roll shows the health of democracy. If feasible, I would like to see the day when a citizen’s charter is prepared which says that if any citizen is missing from the electoral roll we should fine ourselves Rs 100 a day for not putting someone on it,” he said. The issuing of photo-ID cards should be expedited, he said.

In addition to increasing voters’ turnout in urban areas, the EC plans to make voting rights “practical” for non-resident Indians (NRIs), Quraishi said. “We have had some discussions with the ministry of overseas Indian affairs and other departments. We are trying to find a way out,” he said. With the government in favor of voting rights for NRIs, the commission is sorting out several issues, whether there would be postal-voting or the voter has to be present at the voting counter, Quraishi said. The commission is trying to make it practical, he said.

With Quraishi as CEC, assembly elections would be held in Bihar, Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry. Polls in Bihar are due this October, while other states will face the ballot next year. Describing Bihar elections as “very important,” he said: “Special efforts will be made to ensure that every single eligible voter is on the rolls. The commission will consider factors like examination, monsoon, festivals, law and order and force requirement before finalizing the poll schedule.”

On prospects of holding elections in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu earlier than scheduled, Quraishi said: “The commission comes into the picture only six months before the polls are due. That stage has not come in these states.”

Quraishi has written a number of books and articles, including two major papers on “Islam, Muslims & Family Planning in India” and “Islam & AIDS.” A product of Delhi University’s St Stephen’s College, later in his career, Quraishi received a Ph.D. for his thesis on “Role of Communication and Social Marketing in Development of Women and Children.” Before joining the civil services, he earned distinction for his study of modern Persian, Arabic and German languages.

Having held several key positions in the government, Quraishi has made special contribution in the areas of social sector reforms covering health, education, population, drug abuse and civil society action. Besides, as an expert on gender and HIV/AIDS, with extensive work to his credit on issues related to population, women and child development, youth and adolescent, various international organizations- including United Nations have benefited from his experience in these fields. He joined the Election Commission in 2006, prior to which he held the post of Secretary, Sports and Youth Affairs in the Center.


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