Election Commission blinks, appoints special poll observer for Varanasi NEW DELHI: Faced with election commissioner HS Brahma's public criticism of the handling of the Varanasi stand-off on Friday, the Election Commission did a U-turn and appointed a special observer to oversee polling in the high-profile constituency where BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi is being challenged by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal and Congress's Ajay Rai. With the appointment of Tamil Nadu chief electoral officer Praveen Kumar as special observer for Varanasi, Pranjal Yadav, district magistrate and returning officer of the constituency, will have to take a back seat in the conduct of polls. Yadav has been criticized by the saffron party for alleged partisanship after he declined permission for a Modi rally in the city. Praveen Kumar's appointment marked a dramatic climbdown on the part of the EC, considering that chief election commissioner VS Sampath had publicly defended Yadav and rejected BJP's charge against him. 'Weak leadership spoiled EC's work' The reversal appeared to have been caused by Brahma's public criticism of EC's handling of the dispute with BJP over the conduct of the returning officer. The election commissioner, who had on Thursday publicly interrupted Sampath, stunned many on Friday by telling media that there were lapses by both EC and Yadav in handling the confrontation. He also said the poll panel should have responded to BJP leader Arun Jaitley's letter promptly, adding that the poll watchdog's functioning had been hampered by its "weak leadership" â€” a not-so-subtle allusion to Sampath. Although Brahma later in the evening signed on to a statement issued by the EC projecting a united front, the public outpouring confirmed BJP general secretary Amit Shah's claim earlier in the day that the poll body was divided over how to deal with the Varanasi returning officer. In any case, the evidence of a split in EC had come on Thursday itself when Brahma interjected Sampath on the issue of whether Rahul Gandhi had committed a transgression when he entered polling booths in Amethi on May 7. "There is nothing grey about it," Brahma had snapped. The appointment of a special observer for Varanasi came after a marathon meeting of the three election commissioners. Although the details could not be ascertained, Brahma's remarks in public, BJP's comment about division in EC and, above all, Praveen Kumar being placed above Yadav in Varanasi suggested that Brahma could have spoken his mind to his colleagues, Sampath and S N A Zaidi. The subsequent unfurling of the banner proclaiming unity could be part of the compromise that the three commissioners hammered out. The panel issued a statement, which it claimed had approval of all three commissioners, clarifying that the top leadership worked as a "team" and denying any undue delay on its part in acting on complaints. "The commission would like to reaffirm that there is complete coordination among the commissioners and all decisions are taken after due deliberation and in unanimity," it said. On Thursday, Sampath had said the Varanasi DM had only acted as per professional advice that cited security and situational concerns. However, barely 24 hours later, Brahma went public with his deviation from this stand. At a press interaction organized by the Indian Women's Press Corps, he said the undue delay on part of the Varanasi DM as well as EC in communicating denial of permission for Modi's rally at Benia Bagh was not justified and that BJP should have been told in time to enable the organizers to make alternative arrangements. Suggesting that the EC leadership was "weak", Brahma said Sampath should have responded promptly to Jaitley's concerns either himself or asked one of the election commissioners to get in touch with him. "Why should anybody come to the EC, when the issue can be decided by the local thanedar or tehsildar... it means there is some urgency. If somebody approaches you for a genuine reason ... I have to either permit or say no and explain the grounds. I should not make him hang around for 24 hours," he said. Talking about the lapses on part of the district magistrate, Brahma said even though his grounds for denial of permission for the Benia Bagh rally may have been justified, he should have conveyed his decision to the BJP leadership promptly. Election Commission blinks, appoints special poll observer for Varanasi - The Times of India ***************************************************************************************************************** Event though there would be good reasons not to allow the rally, yet, all seems to be not well. Also, Naidu and Modi had FIRs registered against them with alacrity and inspite of definite evidence nothing is being done against Rahul Gandhi. This seems rather odd, what ho?