Ahead of Lok Sabha elections 2019, a group of 66 former civil servants have written an open letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, alleging the "independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency" of Election Commission (EC) is being compromised, thereby, endangering the integrity of the electoral process.
The ex-bureaucrats, in the letter, wrote that they have no affiliations with any political party and wanted to express their distress regard the "misuse, abuse and blatant disregard" of the Model of Conduct by the ruling party.
The signatories included the likes of former foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Memon, former Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung, former Planning Commission secretary N C Saxena, former IPS officer Julio Riberio, former Trai chairman Rahul Khullar, former Prasar Bharati CEO Jawhar Sircar, among 60 others.
The copies of the letter, which highlight the "weak-kneed conduct" of the EC, have also been marked to the chief election commissioner and other election commissioners.
The letter appealed for the firm exercise of the mandate given under Article 324 of the Constitution of India "to ensure that the Indian voter is able to exercise her/his franchise without fear or favour".
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"Any erosion in the people’s confidence in the fairness of the ECI has very grave consequences for the future of our democracy," the letter stated.
The various instances of misuse of Model Code of Conduct enumerated in the letter include:
1. On Modi's public announcement on March 27, 2019, about the successful launch of India's first anti-satellite weapon (ASAT), the letter said: "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".
2. Regarding the release of Modi's biopic on April 11, 2019, the day when Lok Sabha elections 2019 commences, the letter opined that it "represents a backdoor effort to garner free publicity for a political person (and his party)".
3. On the 10-part web series "Modi: A Common Man's Journey", it said that Election Commission did nothing besides seeking for more details even though the first five episodes of the series are running on streaming platform Eros Now.
4. On NaMo TV, a special service channel, the letter alleged that the Election Commission acted with "lethargy" even though the channel was launched without any formal approval from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Moreover, the letter pointed out that there is no option to delete the channel.
5. On EC order of transferring three top police officers and the Chief Secretary in Andhra Pradesh and four top police officers in West Bengal, the letter questioned why no such steps were taken in Tamil Nadu, where the Director General of Police (DGP) is reportedly under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Gutkha scam case and Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu sought his removal as well.
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6. The letter alleged that since Rajasthan Governor Shri Kalyan Singh made certain statements that amount to canvassing for a specific political party, he should be removed from his post.
7. On Yogi Adityanath's reference of Indian Army as 'Modi ki sena', the letter called for strongest action. "This amounts to a deliberate attempt to mislead the general public, apart from damaging
the tradition of the armed forces as apolitical formations," it stated.
8. On Modi's election campaign speech where he allegedly said "the Congress insulted Hindus and is forced to take refuge in places where the majority is a minority", the letter said that such divisive speeches violate one of the first requirements stipulated in the Model Code of Conduct.
9. The EC had recently told the Supreme Court that manual counting of voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips of 50 per cent of electronic voting machines (EVMs) would delay election results by 5.2 days. On this, the letter stated "everyone is aware that, even in the days of paper ballots, the counting used to get over within 8 to 15 hours and the results were declared either the same day or the next day".