Politics

Elections 2019 Among 'Least Free and Fair' in Three Decades: Ex-Officials Write to EC

In a 20-point letter, 64 retired civil servants stated: "there is no doubt that the mandate of 2019 has been thrown into serious doubt."

New Delhi: Over 60 retired civil servants have written to the Election Commission of India (ECI) to draw attention to ‘serious anomalies’ in the manner in which Lok Sabha elections 2019 were conducted, saying they were among the “least free and fair elections” in three decades. Held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19, the general elections saw the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party returning to power with a greater majority.

The July 2 letter addressed to chief election commissioner Sunil Arora, and election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, points that it is the duty of the ECI to be transparent and accountable to the Indian citizens. However, ‘repeated omissions and commissions’ of the poll body, the letter states, have created an impression “that our democratic process is being subverted and undermined by the very constitutional authority empowered to safeguard its sanctity.”

“So blatant have been the acts of omission and commission by the ECI that even former Elections Commissioners and CECs have been compelled, albeit reluctantly, to question the decisions of their successors in office.”

The signatories further note that the poll body moved away from past convention by delaying the announcement of the elections results, showing a “bias” towards “one particular party.”

Also read: We Voters Did Our Duty but the Election Commission Failed to Do the Same

ECI’s delay till March 10, the letter notes, created “reasonable doubt” that the poll body had done so “deliberately” in order to “enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to complete the inauguration blitz of a slew of projects (157 of them) that he had scheduled between February 8 and March 9.” The election body adjusting to the government’s schedule rather than the other way round also raises doubts about the ECI’s “independence and impartiality.”

Writing for The Wire, Sidharth Bhatia had raised similar concerns, saying that the voters’ faith in the ECI has deteriorated, which does not bode well for democracy.

The letter, which was also endorsed by 83 veterans, academics and activists, also took note of media reports on voter exclusion. The Wire reported in late February that nearly 55 lakh voters in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were left out of the electoral process due to the linkage of electoral photo identity card and Aadhaar taken up by the ECI in 2015. Activists had said that 40 million Muslims and 30 million Dalits were not on electoral rolls. The signatories state that the charges may not have been true, but “it was incumbent upon the ECI to investigate them and respond promptly.”

“Many voters who had exercised their mandates in earlier elections found their names missing. The ECI’s failure to effectively answer these allegations further tarnished its reputation.”

The ECI’s ‘bias’ in dealing with the flouting of the model code of conduct (MCC) by candidates was much talked about during the election process. After first refusing to act on the repeated complaints against Modi violating the MCC by invoking the armed forces in his speeches during poll rallies, the Election Commission had ended up giving him a clean-chit.

Also read: EC’s ‘Studied Silence’ on Complaints About Modi Playing Politics with Armed Forces

The BJP president as well had allegations of MCC violation levelled against him for saying that “illegal immigrants would be thrown into the Bay of Bengal,” however, as the letter notes, “Only when pulled up by the Supreme Court did the ECI suddenly discover its powers, even then exercising them selectively on the small fry and ignoring the more egregious cases of violation by the Prime Minister and the BJP Party President.”

In the 20-point letter, the signatories then go on to take note of the ‘glaring bias’ in the case of Mohammed Mohsin, a 1996-batch Karnataka cadre IAS officer, who the EC suspended in mid-April for checking Prime Minister’s Modi’s helicopter, saying it was not in accordance with the poll body’s guidelines.

“It was pointed out, even at that time, 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 letter also takes note of NITI Aayog, the Central government think-tank, calling on bureaucrats to provide the PMO with information about destinations Modi was to visit on the campaign trail. The retired civil servants point out that while this was a “blatant violation of the MCC”, the commission “merely dismissed the complaint.”

Further, from repeated media violations of the ruling party and lack of transparency in electoral funding to dwindling confidence in EVMs, the letter notes that “Viewed in totality, there is no doubt that the mandate of 2019 has been thrown into serious doubt.”

“The concerns raised are too central to the well-being of our democracy for the ECI to leave unexplained. 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 Page 6 of 12 steps to prevent such incidents from occurring in future. This is essential to restore the people’s faith in our electoral process.”

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Full list of signatories

1. S.P. Ambrose IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
2. Mohinderpal Aulakh IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police (Jails), Govt. of Punjab
3. G. Balachandhran IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
4. Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
5. Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
6. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
7. Sharad Behar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
8. Madhu Bhaduri IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Portugal
9. Pradip Bhattacharya IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Development & Planning and Administrative Training Institute, Govt. of West Bengal
10. Meeran C Borwankar IPS (Retd.) Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI
11. Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
12. Kalyani Chaudhuri IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
13. Javid Chowdhury IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
14. Surjit K. Das IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand
15. P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
16. Keshav Desiraju IAS (Retd) Former Health Secretary, GoI
17. M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
18. K.P. Fabian IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
19. Arif Ghauri IRS (Retd.) Former Governance Adviser, DFID, Govt. of the United Kingdom (on deputation)
20. Gourisankar Ghosh IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI Page 7 of 12
21. S.K. Guha IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI
22. Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
23. Wajahat Habibullah IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner
24. Sajjad Hassan IAS (Retd.) Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur
25. Jagdish Joshi IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Maharashtra
26. Kamal Jaswal IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
27. Rahul Khullar IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
28. Ajai Kumar Indian Fores t Service (Retd .) Former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI
29. Arun Kumar IAS (Retd). Former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, GoI
30. Sudhir Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal
31. P.K. Lahiri IAS (Retd.) Former Executive Director, Asian Development Bank
32. Subodh Lal IPoS (Retd .) Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
33. P.M.S. Malik IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Myanmar & Special Secretary, MEA, GoI
34. Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
35. Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
36. Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
37. Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
38. Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
39. Shiv Shankar Mukherjee IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Page 8 of 12
40. Sobha Nambisan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka
41. Amitabha Pande IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
42. Alok Perti IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
43. T.R.Raghunandan IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, GoI
44. N.K. Raghupathy IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI
45. J.P. Rai IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Skills Development Agency, GoI
46. V.P. Raja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission
47. C. Babu Rajeev IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI
48. M.Y. Rao IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman and MD of Grid Corporation of Orissa
49. Satwant Reddy IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, GoI
50. S.S.Rizvi IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI
51. Aruna Roy IAS (Resi gned)
52. Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
53. N.C. Saxena IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
54. Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
55. Aftab Seth IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
56. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
57. Navrekha Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
58. Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
59. Rashmi Shukla Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
60. K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty IAS (Retd.) Former Vice Chancellor, Indian Maritime University, GoI
61. Jawhar Sircar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati
62. Parveen Talha IRS (Retd.) Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
63. P.S.S. Thomas IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary-General, National Human Rights Commission
64. Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir