The merit of a circular issued by the Narendra Modi government on October 17 to all the ministries, which has since been circulating widely on social media, is a brazen infringement of basics of free and fair elections, E A S Sarma, former Secretary to the Union Government has said in a letter to the Election Commission of India (ECI). The letter, written by E A S Sarma from Visakhapatnam, dated October 2, 2023 has been addressed to Rajiv Kumar Chief Election Commissioner, Shri A C Pandey and Arun Goel, both Election Commissioners.
As widely reported in the media, the Department of Personnel (directly under the PMO), vide F.no. 1-28047/8/2023 dated 17-10-2023 seemed to have instructed all Ministries to nominate senior officers as “District Rath Praharis” under their purview to “showcase/celebrate achievements of the NDA government during the last nine years through “Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra” from November 20, 2023 to January 25, 2024″, overlapping with the schedule of the upcoming state assembly elections (in five states).
Sarma states in his letter that he “understands that several Ministries have issued instructions based on it. For example, CBDT issued a communication on October 18, 2023 based on the above-referred letter.” Besides, tThere have been reports on the Defence Ministry also issuing instructions to its officers.
It is a matter of serious concern, states the former bureaucrat, that officers of the Defence Forces should be mis-deployed for showcasing the NDA government’s achievements. Not only that since it amounts to a direct politicization of the Armed Forces, “it may not be appropriate in the long run.”
“To the best of my knowledge, the above instructions were issued when the Model Code of Conduct had already come into force and, as such, they amount to its brazen infringement, as they place the NDA government at an advantage vis-a-vis the political parties in opposition, amounting to misuse of government machinery for activity that will influence elections.
“I therefore request you to direct the Central government to revoke the above instructions forthwith and also impose a deterrent penalty on the parties involved in such an MCC violation.”
On October 21, by mid-day, as reported by The Wire, former IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam also wrote to the Election Commission endorsing Sarma’s letter. The Election Commission is yet to react to these letters. Former cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi told The Wire, “This is unprecedented. I have not seen any such thing in my entire civil service career. It will be seen as politicisation of civil and defence services. The government has publicity departments whose job it is to publicise its work. Using senior civil servants and defence personnel in special campaigns is improper in the context of impending elections in the states to be followed by the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.”
Former member of the Planning Commission N.C. Saxena also said, “[I’ve] never seen such a publicity programme involving civil servants. It is blurring the line between civil service and politics. On the one hand all data systems which assess performance, like NSSO and NFHS, are being undermined as seen in the recent resignation of the head of NFHS. On the other such programmes are being created to publicise government performance.”
Reacting to the October 17 circular, Congress spokespersons like Jairam Ramesh and Pawan Khera took to X (formerly Twitter) on October 21 to question the Modi government’s action. A day later, party president Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to the prime minister “on the blatant politicisation taking place of civil servants and soldiers who must at all times be kept independent and non-political”.
— Pawan Khera 🇮🇳 (@Pawankhera) October 21, 2023
This is Narendra’s Another Megalomaniac Order https://t.co/XHFxCzhzJh
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) October 21, 2023
“It is a clear violation of the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964, which directs that no government servant shall take part in any political activity. While it is acceptable for government officers to disseminate information, to make them “celebrate” and “showcase” achievements blatantly turns them into political workers of the ruling party,” Kharge wrote in his letter. He added that soldiers becoming “marketing agents for government schemes” would count as a “dangerous step towards [the] politicisation of the armed forces”.
For the Modi Govt, all agencies, institutions, arms, wings, and departments of the government are now officially ‘Pracharaks’ !
In view of protecting our democracy and our Constitution, it is imperative that the orders which would lead to the politicising of Bureaucracy and our… pic.twitter.com/t9hq0N4Ro4
— Mallikarjun Kharge (@kharge) October 22, 2023