The 2019 General Elections were replete with political turnarounds and alleged violations of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), with activists expressing their disapproval over the callous approach of the Election Commission (EC) and matters often dragged right up to the Supreme Court (SC). There were multiple instances where the EC was accused of acting like a ‘toothless watchdog,’ especially on the violations by Narendra Modi-led BJP. After a landslide victory of the BJP, 64 former civil servants have now written to the EC to draw their attention to the “serious anomalies in the conduct of the General Elections 2019.” This letter has been endorsed by 83 veterans, academics, and other concerned citizens. The letter says that this election has been “one of the least free and fair elections that the country has had in the past three decades or so.”
The letter reads, “We are a group of former civil servants that takes up, from time to time, matters of exceptional national interest, seeking to remind our cherished democratic institutions of their responsibility to uphold the lofty ideals of the Constitution. We write to you today to draw your attention to the several very troubling and still unexplained issues pertaining to the conduct of the General Elections, 2019, by the Election Commission of India (ECI).”
The letter has mentioned a list of violations and irregularities this election season and has requested the EC to provide clarity on each of the concerns raised.
Few concerns mentioned in the letter include:
- EC’s silence over several media reports highlighting the irregularities in the elections seems to be an implicit acceptance of those reports.
- There seems to be a connection between the delay in announcing the election dates and BJP’s inauguration of 157 projects scheduled between February 8 and March 9.
- The BJP members blatantly flouted the MCC by making hate speeches and communal loaded statements. However, the EC failed to take any action against them. For instance, the ‘illegal termites’ statement by Amit Shah didn’t compel the EC to react. It was only after the Supreme Court pulled up the EC did it wake up and took action, albeit selectively.
- A show cause notice wasn’t issued to Narendra Modi despite his blatant misuse of Pulwama and Balakot issues to create a feeling of nationalism among the masses, which ultimately worked in the party’s favour.
- Suspension of IAS officer Mohammaed Mohsin after he checked the PM’s helicopter for any non-permissible cargo reflects the glaringly apparent bias of the EC. This is reiterated by the fact that similar checks had been carried out on the helicopters of the Odisha CM Mr. Naveen Patnaik and the then Petroleum Minister Mr. Dharmendra Pradhan, with no objections from the dignitaries concerned. However, the ECI could not and did not explain its double standards.
- The use of local information sought by the Niti Aayog so that it could be used by Narendra Modi during his election campaign is another gross misuse of the state machinery.
- One of the most blatant violations of the MCC and the EC turning a blind eye to it was the airing of NaMo TV despite the MCC being in place. Though EC had ordered that all the content on NaMo TV should be pre-certified by the Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) and comply with the 48-hour ‘election silence’ ahead of every phase of voting, it continued to telecast the PM’s speeches and campaigns right till the end of the election season. “Procrastination, silence and inaction characterized ECI’s responses in so many matters.”
- A ‘candid and apolitical’ interview with Akshay Kumar amidst the election season was another violation of MCC, which once again didn’t compel the EC to take any action.
- “In terms of transparency of electoral funding, this election was the most opaque ever, both because of the widespread use of electoral bonds, and also because of the enormous amounts of cash, gold and drugs, amounting to Rs 3456 crores, which were seized during the polls.”
- EC didn’t respond to multiple reports of EVM tampering except merely and repeatedly stating that EVMs are tamperproof.
- People’s confidence in the EVMs would have been greater if the EC had been more cooperative about using the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPATs) in a manner that would confirm the results of the EVMs, but from the beginning the ECI was extremely reluctant to match the number of votes recorded in EVMs with the votes in the VVPAT machines on any significant scale, despite representations by different groups, including political parties.
The letter raises severe concerns over the growing misconduct in the largest democrartic exercise in the world. It expresses regret over the EC’s approach, which once was appreciated and respected worldwide for its ability to conduct free and fair elections. Requesting the EC to take note of all these grave irregularities and provide clarifications on each of the doubts raised, the letter states, “In the interests of ensuring that this never happens again, the ECI needs to pro-actively issue public clarifications in respect of each of these reported irregularities, and put in place steps to prevent such incidents from occurring in (the) future. This is essential to restore the people’s faith in our electoral process.”
The letter dated July 2, has been signed by 64 former IAS, IPS and IFS officers: Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.), Government of Madhya Pradesh, Mohinderpal Aulakh IPS (Retd.), Former Director General of Police (Jails) Govt. of Punjab, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, P.S.S. Thomas IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission, just to name a few.
The letter has been endorsed by veterans of the Armed Forces, academics and concerned citizens such as: Lt Gen C.A.Barretto, PVSM, Arundhati Ghosh, Arts Professional, Bangalore, C. P. Chandrasekhar, Professor, JNU, Anita Dighe, Concerned Citizen, NOIDA, among others.
The letter says, “It is indeed, saddening to witness the process of the demise of that legacy. If it continues, it is bound to strike at the very heart of that founding document the people of India proudly gave themselves – the Constitution of India – and the democratic ethos that is the very basis of the Indian Republic.”