Ahead of LS 2024, ex-civil servants want EC to take six steps for free & fair polls
In an open letter to the Election Commission of India, a group of retired civil servants has called for more action to ensure free and fair elections
Ahead of several state elections later this year and the Lok Sabha polls 2024, a private body calling itself the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG) and comprising former civil servants on Saturday released an open letter to the Election Commission of India (ECI), urging it to initiate the following six steps to ensure free and fair polling:
1. After raising initial objections, ECI has been silent on the Electoral Bond Scheme, a challenge to which has been pending with the Supreme Court since 2018. The scheme has made donations to political parties opaque, and handed an unfair advantage to ruling parties to dispense favours secretly in lieu of donations. The CCG has urged the ECI to move the Supreme Court for an early hearing
2. With an increasing number of MPs and MLAs defecting to rival parties after being elected, a consensus must be found and a dialogue initiated with political parties to amend Article 102 of the Constitution of India to disqualify defectors
3. Strengthen the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) to bar all communal and divisive propaganda that can vitiate and influence the voting process, and prohibit those indulging in such propaganda from contesting polls for a specified period of time
4. Urgently finalise norms to deal with misuse of new media and technology and to ensure fair and even access on all media platforms
5. With frequent complaints that names of genuine voters are found missing from electoral rolls, the ECI must carry out a booth-wise social audit in all assembly constituencies before elections
6. The EC has been less than transparent with the counting of VVPAT slips. A robust cross-verification system of EVMs and VVPATs needs to be urgently developed
CCG members point out that they have had in-person meetings with election commissioners and apprised them of their concerns, and written a number of letters focusing on specific electoral misuse, violations and abuse of money and muscle power. The group has also constituted a Citizens’ Commission on Elections and shared with the ECI two published volumes of recommendations.
However, “as former colleagues of yours, we note with regret that you have not deemed it necessary to interact with us to discuss our suggestions,” the letter says.
The ECI, the letter adds, is focused only on the misuse of money power during elections, “ignoring the larger problem of the suborning of the choice of voters in the interregnum between elections”
“...the open call by the Prime Minister to the voters of Karnataka to chant a religious invocation 'Jai Bajrang Bali' while casting their votes. The ECI, despite being approached on this matter, took no cognisance.”Extract from open letter to Election Commission from CCG
“Muscle power has now assumed new forms. Just before elections and at times when legislators are sought to be persuaded to change their party loyalties, the services of law enforcement agencies are selectively utilised to bring pressure to bear on political opponents. The unedifying spectacle of Nationalist Congress Party legislators in Maharashtra switching loyalties and being rewarded with ministerial posts, barely days after being castigated publicly by the prime minister for corruption, reflects the depths to which our politics has sunk,” the letter also says.
The ECI, the letter adds, has been found wanting in the matter of preventing appeals to sectarian and religious sentiments. Though the CCG had drawn the ECI’s attention to communal rhetoric ahead of the 2019 election, no action was taken.
The latest instance, the letter cites, was “the open call by the Prime Minister to the voters of Karnataka to chant a religious invocation 'Jai Bajrang Bali' while casting their votes. The ECI, despite being approached on this matter, took no cognisance.”
“The silent period of 48 hours before the polling process is completed has also been cleverly exploited by skilful use of the ubiquitous range of modern-day media systems. The very purpose of maintaining a level playing field in respect of media exposure of the election activities of persons belonging to different political parties is defeated in such cases.”
Pointing out that though the operation of NAMO TV in 2019 constituted a clear breach of the MCC, and the ECI had failed to take any action, the letter concludes with the following appeal to the ECI:
“You are the inheritors of a rich tradition of conducting free and fair elections that has withstood the test of time over seventy years. We urge you to continue the legacy of your eminent predecessors in maintaining the sanctity of the electoral process and safeguarding democracy”