As many as 66 former civil servants have written a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind complaining that the Election Commission of India was, today, suffering from “a crisis of credibility”, thereby “endangering the integrity of the electoral process.”
The letter comes at a time when the Opposition parties, the Congress in particular, have been crying foul about decisions of the poll panel being blatantly partisan, favouring the BJP and its allies.
The letter, a copy of which is with Outlook, says: “We write to express our deep anguish that the Election Commission of India (ECI), which has had a long and honourable record of holding free and fair elections despite the enormous challenges of scale and complexity, is suffering from a crisis of credibility today. The ECI’s independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are perceived to be compromised today, thereby endangering the integrity of the electoral process which is the very foundation of Indian democracy.”
The signatories, including former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and former Planning Commission secretary NC Saxena, among 64 others, have added: “We are distressed to note 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.”
Curiously, the list of signatories also includes Najeeb Jung who, during his stint as the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, was regularly accused by Aam Aadmi Party and chief minister Arvind Kejriwal of acting like an “agent of the BJP”.
The letter goes on to list a host of “glaring instances” wherein the signatories believe that the EC has acted in a partisan manner. Among the examples cited by the retired IAS and IPS officers are the EC’s decision to reject allegations of violation of the MCC by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when, on March 27, he addressed the nation on the success of Mission Shakti.
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Asserting that the timing of Modi’s public announcement about the successful launch of India’s first anti-satellite weapon (ASAT), by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was “questionable”, the former bureaucrats said “propriety demanded” that the announcement “should have been left to the officials of DRDO at a time when the MCC was operative” since the country “was facing no immediate security threat that required the Prime Minister, who is an election candidate himself, to make a public announcement.”
While the Election Commission has rejected claims that the PM’s public announcement was a violation of the MCC, the former civil servants claim 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.”
The retired civil servants have also questioned why the EC has not objected to the release of biopic on Modi that stars Bollywood actor Vivek Oberoi and is slated to hit screens on April 11, the date of polling for the first phase of the seven-phase Lok Sabha polls, or to the broadcast of a web series on the Prime Minister. The signatories have termed this as a “backdoor effort to garner free publicity for a political person (and his party)” and demanded that “the entire expenses on the production, distribution and publicity of the biopic should be debited to the election expenses of Shri Narendra Modi.”
The controversial launch of NaMo TV, a channel that broadcasts only speeches of Modi and his public appearances has also been slammed in the letter.
Stating that they 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”, the signatories have appealed to the EC, through President Kovind, that the poll panel “conduct itself in a manner where its independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are not questioned.”
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