A group of 66 former civil servants has written to the President expressing their anguish at the Election Commission of India (ECI), which they say is suffering from a crisis of credibility today.
The letter states that the independence, fairness, impartiality of the ECI, which has had a long and honourable record of holding free and fair elections despite the enormous challenges of scale and complexity, are perceived to be compromised today, thereby endangering the integrity of the electoral process which is the foundation of Indian democracy.
As a group, we have no affiliations with any political party and many in our group, over the past six decades, have been involved with the conduct of elections in India, the letter says.
Copies of the letter are also marked to the Chief Election Commissioner as well as other Election Commissioners.
The list of former civil servants includes Salahuddin Ahmed, Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan; S.P. Ambrose, Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI; N. Bala Baskar, former Principal Adviser (Finance), Ministry of External Affairs, GoI, Vappala Balachandran, Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI; Gopalan Balagopal, Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal; among others.
It says that they are distressed to note the blatant misuse and disregard of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by the ruling party at the Centre and the ECIâ€™s reluctance to come down hard on these violations.
Enumerating the various instances of violation of MCC, it points out:
- The Prime Minister made a public announcement on 27 March 2019 about the successful launch of Indiaâ€™s first anti-satellite weapon (ASAT), which made India the fourth nation in the world with anti-satellite missile capabilities. While the timing of the exercise is questionable, even more questionable is the fact that the announcement of the launch was made with much fanfare by the Prime Minister when propriety demanded that it should have been left to the officials of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at a time when the MCC was operative.
- We understand from media reports that a biopic on the present Prime Minister is slated for release on 11 April 2019, on the day of commencement of the polling process. This, in our opinion, represents a backdoor effort to garner free publicity for a political person (and his party).
- The same principle should also be applied to the 10-part web series Modi: A Common Manâ€™s Journey the first five episodes of which are out on the streaming platform Eros Now, with the ECI again doing nothing but going through the motions of calling for details.
- The ECI has been acting with the same lethargy in respect of the NaMo TV channel launched on 31 March 2019, which, without any formal approval of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, is propagating the image and views of Shri Narendra Modi. The brazen violation of democratic norms may be seen from the fact that the channel has been added to all subscribersâ€™ accounts â€śas a launch offerâ€ť with â€śno option to delete the individual channel.â€ť
- While the ECI has passed orders transferring three top police officers and the Chief Secretary in Andhra Pradesh and four top police officers in West Bengal, we find it curious that no such steps have been taken in Tamil Nadu, where the present Director General of Police (DGP) is reportedly under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Gutkha scam case and there have been repeated appeals by the Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu seeking his removal from that post.
- The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, had, at a recent public election meeting, referred to the armed forces as the army of Shri Narendra Modi. A similar statement has been made at another election meeting by Shri Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a senior BJP functionary. Such irresponsible statements by a very high constitutional functionary and a political party official not only constitute an insult to your position as the Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces of India, but also amount to a deliberate attempt to mislead the general public, apart from damaging the tradition of the armed forces as apolitical formations.
- We would like to draw attention to a speech by Shri Narendra Modi at Wardha, Maharashtra on 1 April 2019 where, to quote the news channel News18.com, he allegedly said, â€śThe Congress insulted Hindus. People have decided to punish it in the election. Leaders of that party are now scared of contesting from constituencies dominated by the majority population. That is why they are forced to take refuge in places where the majority is a minority.â€ť Such divisive speeches, with clear innuendoes, constitute a violation of one of the first requirements stipulated in the MCC: â€śNo party or candidate shall indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.â€ť
The letter says that any erosion in the peopleâ€™s confidence in the fairness of the ECI has serious consequences for the future of Indian democracy. It concludes by appealing through the President, to the ECI, to conduct itself in a manner where its independence, fairness, impartiality are not questioned and to firmly exercise the broad mandate given to it under Article 324 of the Constitution of India to ensure that the voter is able to exercise her/his franchise without fear or favour.