ECI Orders Transfer of Odisha’s Mission Shakti Secretary Sujata Karthikeyan Amid Allegations of Political Bias

The ECI ordered the transfer of Sujata R. Karthikeyan, IAS, wife of powerful BJD leader V.K. Pandian, from the post of Secretary to the Mission Shakti Department of Odisha.

·       According to reports in the national media, Ms Karthikeyan, has been ordered to be transferred to a non-public dealing department with immediate effect.

·       Earlier the BJP had urged the ECI to relieve Ms. Karthikeyan from the post, and a high-level BJP delegation submitted a memorandum in this regard with the ECI in New Delhi.

·       According to the memorandum, the Odisha Mission Shakti department was allegedly compelling and coercing SHGs to propagate and influence voters to choose BJD in the upcoming elections.

·       The delegation alleged that Ms Karthikeyan indulged in grave misconduct through the misuse of authority, government machinery, and manpower for influencing voters

In a swift development, the Election Commission of India (ECI) has directed the transfer of Sujata R Karthikeyan, the secretary of Odisha’s Mission Shakti department, to a non-public dealing department with immediate effect. The move comes in the wake of allegations leveled by the BJP, accusing the 2000-batch IAS officer of actively favoring the ruling BJD in the state’s political landscape.

Sujata R Karthikeyan, who heads the Mission Shakti department, is the wife of BJD leader V K Pandian, a former civil servant who entered state politics post his voluntary retirement from the All India Civil Services in October 2023. The BJP’s representation to the ECI cited concerns over Karthikeyan allegedly leveraging her position and the Election Commission’s SVEEP program to sway approximately 70,000 women associated with self-help groups under Mission Shakti in favor of the BJD.

The SVEEP program, a flagship initiative of the Election Commission, aims at voter education, awareness, and literacy across the country. The BJP delegation, which included Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Rajeev Chandrasekhar, along with senior party leaders, highlighted what they termed as Karthikeyan’s departure from professionalism by allegedly aligning herself with the BJD’s electoral interests due to her husband’s influence.

The BJP’s representative urged that Karthikeyan be relieved of her responsibilities until the completion of both the assembly elections and the Lok Sabha polls in the state. This demand was made amidst assertions that her association with Pandian and her role within the ongoing electoral landscape could potentially compromise the fairness and integrity of the electoral process.

It’s noteworthy that the BJD, under the leadership of Naveen Patnaik, has garnered substantial support from female voters through Mission Shakti, a program aimed at empowering women self-help groups. Initiated in 2001, Mission Shakti was institutionalized as a separate department in June 2020, with Karthikeyan leading the initiative. The program, aimed at nearly 70 lakh rural women associated with six lakh women self-help groups, has been a cornerstone of the BJD’s outreach strategy, with the party also emphasizing women’s political empowerment by fielding them as candidates in elections.

The transfer order issued by the ECI underscores the gravity of the allegations surrounding Karthikeyan’s purported political bias, further highlighting the complexities at the intersection of bureaucracy and electoral politics.

(With inputs from agencies)

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