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New CEC has soft heart but blunt opinions

The first thing one notices about H S Brahma, the country’s new Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), is his loud voice and blunt opinions. People say he is neither diplomatic nor shy from taking decisions under pressure.

Brahma, a retired 1975 batch Indian Administrative Service officer from the Andhra Pradesh cadre, will take charge as India’s 19th CEC on Friday. Predecessor V S Sampath retired on Thursday. In the Election Commission of India’s structure, there is the CEC and two more election commissioners – Brahma was one of the latter till Thursday. This panel of three decides on all poll matters.

There were occasions in the past when Brahma, who joined the EC on August 25, 2010, had disagreed with the three-member committee headed by Sampath. One was regarding the venue of Narendra Modi’s rally in Varanasi during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Brahma felt the decision to cancel Modi’s rally should have been conveyed to his Bharatiya Janata Party in advance. Sampath had to clarify there was no rift in the Commission.

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People close to both Sampath and Brahma say they are a contrast. “If Sampath is reserved and diplomatic, Brahma is outspoken and more accessible. Sampath would skirt controversary, whereas Brahma would not shy away from airing his discontent,” said a person, on condition of anonymity. Interestingly, both come from the same Andhra Pradesh cadre, with Sampath two batches senior. Also, both retired from the civil service from the post of Union power secretary.

Brahma’s staff says though he sounds more authoritative when he speaks, he’s not so in reality. “When I first met him, I found him loud. But this is his style of conversing. He is the most caring person and boss we have ever worked with,” says one.

Unlike Sampath, though, Brahma will not have much time to leave a mark as CEC. His tenure ends on April 19 this year, the day he turns 65.

The new CEC is a postgraduate in political science from Guwahati University and graduate from St Edmund’s College in Shillong. And, an alumnus of Don Bosco School of Guwahati. He is the second person after J M Lyndogh to become a CEC from the Northeast.

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