Election Commission of India suffering from the "Crisis of credibility": Ex-Bureaucrats letter To President Kovind

Posted on 2019-04-26 12:16:48 by Ujjwal Kumar

Summary

The post analyses few significant allegations against the Election Commission of India from the ex-bureaucrats letter to President Kovind.

On 8th April 2019, a total of 66 former civil servants had written to the President of India complaining that ‘Election Commission of India’ today is suffering from the “Crisis of credibility” thereby ‘endangering’ the integrity of the electoral process.


The letter read: “We write to express our deep anguish that the Election Commission of India (ECI), which has had a long and honorable 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.” Pointing mainly towards the violation of Model Code of Conduct.

The MCC is a set of guidelines issued by the Election Commission to regulate political parties and candidates prior to elections, to ensure free and fair elections. This is in keeping with Article 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the parliament and state legislatures. The PRS blog brings about.

The model code of conduct was imposed on March 10 for this General Elections.

The Bureaucrats have alleged, that Election Commission has shown leniency towards the ruling party allowing them to go ahead with its adventurism. They, in letter express  “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.”

The letter includes notable ex-office bearers:  former Planning Commission secretary NC Saxena, former foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon, and Najeeb Jung the ex-governor of Delhi amongst other ex-heads of various institutions. They letter lists down various instances, where the Model Code of Conduct was compromised.

The instances mentioned are as follows;

  1. Prime Minister’s public announcement about ‘Mission Shakti’ on 27 March.
  2. Biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  3. Web-series on Prime Minister.
  4. Launch of NaMo TV.
  5. Transferring of police officials.
  6.  Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh comment on Narendra Modi.
  7. “Modi ki Sena” remark of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister.
  8. Prime Minister Narendra Modi speech at Wardha on April 1, 2019.

 

The letter has initiated fierce contestation and discussion in public domain on topic “Has the Election Commission of India been biased in its approach towards ruling government, this General Elections?” 

Below we analyse few significant allegations from list;

 

  1. The prime minister’s public announcement about mission Shakti on 27 March.

 

 The letter submitted by bureaucrats to president questions the timing of announcement of ASAT mission which made India fourth in list of nations having anti-satellite-capabilities. The letter states that propriety demanded that official of DRDO should have made the announcement, also there was no immediate danger to the security of the country, that the prime minister who himself is an election candidate made the announcement.

  1. However, The Election Commission had given a clean chit to Prime Minister, saying that the speech of Prime Minister on Shakti didn’t violate MCC, as no public broadcasting medium were used.

The panel constituted on matter, headed by Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena, said in its report that it was told by officials from public broadcaster Doordarshan that the telecast of Modi’s speech was not live and was sourced from ANI news agency. Officials of All India Radio told the panel that the radio channel had used Doordarshan’s audio output, and no production activity was involved from its side.

 

  1. Biopic on Narendra Modi.

 

In the letter, ex-bureaucrats on the biopic have opined “This in our opinion represents a backdoor effort to garner a free support for a political person and his party. In the event the biopic is released even while the election process is ongoing, we contend that expense on entire production, publication and distribution should be debited to the election expenses of Narendra Modi.”

 

       An The Indian Express report brings out that, after the Supreme Court heard the petition of four producer challenging stay of biopic and directed the Election Commission to watch it, the Election Commission has reiterated its stand to continue with the stay. The Election Commission of India had evoked its extraordinary power under article 324 to impose a ban on screening of any biopic material of biography.

The issue was widely discussed in mainstream media, with the lead character Vivek Oberoi expressing his views on various TV channels.

 

The letter has urged similar treatment for the web-series on Modi.

The election commission had put on stay the web series on Narendra Modi; Journey of a common man.

 

  1. Launch of NaMo

 

The NaMo TV is a Television channel with no broadcast license, is dedicated to 24/7 coverage of Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party. Name of channel doesn’t feature in the list of private and public channels list published at Information and Broadcasting official website.

 

The channel was launched on March 31, while the model code of conduct was and is in force. The Election Commission had issued notice to Information and Broadcasting ministry of India asking for an explanation. The Information and Broadcasting ministry had sought time, a request which was denied by Election Commission of India.

For a new channel to get any licence it needs to seek clearance from seven departments of government.

So what’s the issue?

 

The Indian Express report amidst the controversy brings out that, Information and Broadcasting ministry has submitted to EC that, NaMo TV is a platform service and hence it doesn’t come under purview of I and B ministry.

 

So what are platform services:

Platform services were defined by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India during a consultation on them in 2014 as: “Platform services (PS) are programs transmitted by Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs – Local service operators, DTH services, Internet protocol service providers, Headened-in-the-sky and terrestrial tv services etc) exclusively to their own subscribers and does not include Doordarshan channels and registered TV channels. PS shall not include foreign TV channels that are not registered in India.”

While platform services have remained exclusive to DTH service providers, NaMo TV is available on all the platforms. Also TRAI had recommended that platform services should not be shared with other platforms.

 

But it must be told here that that no laws on platform services have come into force yet.

 

 

 

  1. Comment of Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh on Prime Minister Narendra Modi

 

 The current Governor of Rajasthan Kalyan Singh Addressing BJP workers at his Aligarh residence on March 23, Singh reportedly said, "All of us are BJP workers and we want the party to win. We want Modiji to become the prime minister. It is necessary that Modiji becomes the PM again." 
The EC doesn’t have much say in a matter involving one holding a constitutional post, however it taking cognizance of the statement had sought reply from Chief Electoral Officer of Uttar Pradesh and found comment of Governor Kalyan Singh in violation of model code of conduct.

Also, the president Ram Nath Kovind has asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to look into Election Commission letter taking objection to Governor’s remark.

 The letter submitted by bureaucrats to president requests Election Commission to remove the governor or urge him to submit his resignation to president.

But is it possible..?

A PRS blog titled ‘Removal of Governor; what does the law say?’ Brings out in its summary that a governor under Article 155 and 156, is appointed by president of India and enjoys his office during pleasure of president.

Moreover, the word pleasure is tricky because president is bound to act on aid and advice of Council of minister of central government according to Article 74 of the constitution. So in effect it is central government which appoints a governor.

 

Though there is no time frame for the Ministry of Home Affairs to act on the complaint of President, it has not acted so far. Kalyan Singh continues to be Governor of Rajasthan.

 

  1. Modi ki Sena remark of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister

 

Yogi Adityanath had come under criticism for his remark which referred to Indian Army as ‘Sena of Narendra Modi. ‘

 

The Election Commission of India on two separate occasion March 9 and 19 had issued advisory to political parties to refrain from using any photograph or videos of any defence personnel or defence forces as well as referring to any defence activities during campaign.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister was found to be violating model code of conduct. The Election Commission served notice to asking him to explain his stance which it letter found to be inadequate.

VK Singh, an Ex-Army chief had come out in open opposing the statement.

 

In the letter to president bureaucrats have held that the statement was an insult to president (the president is Supreme commander of forces) and urged the president to take strict action.

 

However, the BJP campaigner was left with milder reprimand.

 

 

Besides these the Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on April 9 in Latur had asked all first time voters to dedicate their vote to Pulwama martyrs he said “I want to ask the first-time voter, can your vote be dedicated to those soldiers who conducted air strike on Balakot in Pakistan?” he asked. “Can your first vote be dedicated to those soldiers who were killed in Pulwama attack?”

 

 

150 retired army personnel on April 14 wrote to President regarding the politicisation of army in Elections.

 

The poll body is yet to decide on the matter.

 

The major cause of these flaws have been the organisational set up and appointment of Election Commission. The Election commission now is a three member body who are appointed by the president of India, on the advice of council of ministers from ruling government.

Further, while the Chief Election Commissioner enjoys the impunity from removal his other two colleagues do not.

A Chief Election commission removal requires impeachment, but other two deputy election commissioners don’t require and they can be removed by president.

The Election commission while it can register political parties it cannot de-register them, in case of misconduct.



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