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Election Commission weak-kneed, say former officials

In a letter to the President, the ex-bureaucrats mentioned the Prime Minister's announcement of the anti-satellite mission
The model election code had kicked in at least a fortnight earlier on March 10

Our Special Correspondent   |   New Delhi   |   Published 09.04.19, 02:03 AM

Former civil servants have written to President Ram Nath Kovind expressing deep concern about the “weak-kneed” conduct of the Election Commission of India, not once but several times, even before the first vote for the 17th Lok Sabha election has been cast.

“We are deeply concerned about the weak-kneed conduct of the ECI, which has reduced the credibility of this constitutional body to an all-time low,” they said in the letter.

The retired bureaucrats who go by the name Constitutional Conduct said “any erosion in the people’s confidence in the fairness of the ECI has very grave consequences for the future of our democracy”.

The signatories said the ECI’s “independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are perceived to be compromised…, thereby endangering the integrity of the electoral process which is the very foundation of Indian democracy”.

They have cited the “misuse, abuse and blatant disregard of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by the ruling party at the Centre, and the ECI’s pusillanimity in coming down with a heavy hand on these violations”.

These include Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s March 27 public announcement of the launch of the anti-satellite interceptor missile last month.

“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. The country was facing no immediate security threat that required the Prime Minister, who is an election candidate himself, to make a public announcement,” the letter said.

The model election code had kicked in at least a fortnight earlier on March 10.

The retired bureaucrats saw no merit in the ECI’s conclusion that the announcement did not amount to a violation of the code as it had not been made on the public broadcasting service.

“We feel, however, that parading the achievements of a government in this manner after the announcement of elections is tantamount to a serious breach of propriety and amounts to giving unfair publicity to the party presently in government and that the ECI’s decision does not stand up to the standards of impartiality expected of it,” they said.

While the letter refers to the possible release of the Modi biopic during the election process — an issue they have red-flagged to the chief election commissioner (CEC) — it also cites the ECI’s inaction on the 10-part web series Modi: a Common Man’s Journey that is now streaming on digital platforms.

“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 letter notes.

The retired bureaucrats also mentioned the poll panel’s transfer of some officials and alleged lack of action elsewhere.

While the ECI, they said, has passed orders transferring officials in Andhra Pradesh and 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”.

The letter says “there have been repeated appeals by the Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu seeking his removal from that post”.

“Even more significantly, the same officer had been ordered by the ECI to be transferred during the 2016 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections,” the letter says.

Other code violations red-flagged in the letter include Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh’s remarks in support of the ruling party, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s and Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s reference to the armed forces as “Modiji ki sena”, the Prime Minister’s divisive speeches in Maharashtra, and the Election Commission’s “obdurate conduct and its reluctance” to undertake a proper audit of votes cast with VVPAT paper trail devices.

Modi had said the Congress had insulted Hindus, so its leaders were being forced to take refuge in places where the majority is a minority, in a dig at Rahul Gandhi’s decision to contest from Wayanad in Kerala.

In sending this letter, the retired bureaucrats have taken on three of their own as the CEC and the two other election commissioners are all from the civil services.

The signatories to the letter include former Planning Commission secretary N.C. Saxena, former national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon, former chief secretary of Bengal Ardhendu Sen, former coal secretary Alok Perti, former Gujarat DGP P.G.J. Nampoothiri, and former Telecom Regulatory Authority of India chairman Rajiv Khullar.


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