The much-anticipated Indian Olympic Association (IOA) election took a dramatic twist on Saturday with the chairman of the election committee S Y Quraishi resigning from the post, saying his conscience did not allow him to continue after the apex sports body backtracked on its commitment.
The resignation of Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner, came barely a week before the high-profile November 25 election which has now been thrown into jeopardy.
The IOA had formed the three-member committee to oversee the election but Quraishi's resignation has thrown an element of uncertainty on the panel which has now been reduced to a two-member committee.
In his resignation letter, Quraishi said, "I appreciate that IOA has appointed an independent committee for the election. But I can't continue because IOA had accepted govt's sports guidelines but later doesn't want to follow it."
"I have been advocating the government sports guidelines right from my tenure as sports secretary. Now IOA is not following the guidelines, and my conscience doesn't allow me to continue. It will be a conflict of interest to continue in the committee," Quraishi wrote.
The other two members of the committee are retired chief justice of Kerala High Court, VK Bali and retired Justice of Delhi High Court, JD Kapur.
The government sports guidelines puts a restriction on contestants' age and tenure of office-bearers. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had on Saturday made it clear that the elections should be held as per the Olympic charter and not the government's sports code.
IOA's acting president V K Malhotra confirmed that he has received Quraishi's resignation letter and said that IOA has not backtracked on its commitment.
"The IOA's stand has been very clear. We have always said that the government guidelines are illegal and unconstitutional but we were forced to adhere to it by the High Court," Malhotra said.
"It is a very strange situation. IOC wants us to follow the Olympic charter and the government wants us to follow its own guidelines. The High Court says it should follow the government guidelines and the IOA constitution which are diametrically opposite. So, everything is very confusing at this stage," Malhotra said.
There is also an indication that the election could be postponed further since a new member has to be found to replace Quraishi in the three-member panel.
A top IOA official said that the Returning Officer Bali has told the IOA to find another member.
It is also learnt that scrutiny of nominations, which was to be held on Saturday, could now be held on November 24, which means the election could be postponed again.
The IOC on Friday had rejected the decision to hold the upcoming elections under sports code and made it clear that the polls will have to be held "exclusively" under the Olympic Charter and the IOA constitution.
Bali had notified that the polls will be held under the sports code but the world body said that this was "unacceptable" as it would violate the Olympic Charter and autonomy of National Olympic bodies. "... From a document signed by a member of the Election Commission on 5 November 2012 ... we have noticed with great concern that the so-called 'provisions governing the elections in the sports code of the Government of India' would be applicable for the IOA elections and would prevail in case of discrepancy with the provisions of the Constitution/By-laws of the IOA," the IOC had stated in a letter.
"This would be against the Olympic Charter and the fundamental principle of autonomy of the NOCs in their internal operations (including their elections) and, consequently, this would not be acceptable to the IOC/OCA.
"Therefore, we wish to make it clear that the IOA elections must be conducted exclusively on the basis of the Olympic Charter and the current Constitution/By-laws of the IOA, as approved by the IOC, without any Government interference in this process," the letter said.
The strongly-worded letter was written jointly by IOC's NOC Relations Director Pere Miro and Olympic Council of Asia Director General and Technical Director Husain Al-Musallam and addressed to IOA acting president V K Malhotra and Quraishi.
Justice Bali had, earlier this month, given directions that the polls will be held under the sports guidelines while the constitution and bye-laws of the IOA would be used only as a supporting factor.
IOA Secretary General Randhir Singh is contesting the election against Abhay Singh Chautala for the president's post while tainted sports administrator Lalit Bhanot is contesting the post of Secretary General against Volleyball Federation of India Secretary General K Murugan and Judo Federation of India General Secretary Mukesh Kumar.