'Irreparable Damage to Democratic Values' if EC Doesn't Act Against 'Rath Prabharis' Plan

Former secretary to the Government of India E.A.S. Sarma has written to the Election Commission of India once again on the Union government's plan.
The Wire Staff
Oct 23, 2023

New Delhi: Former secretary to the Government of India E.A.S. Sarma has written to the Election Commission of India once again on the Union government’s plan to use senior government officers as “rath prabharis” who will spread informations on the alleged achievements of the Narendra Modi government.

Sarma had first written to the ECI on October 21, saying that the commission must intervene and block this government order. These instructions, he argued, were against the model code of conduct. Former IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam had endorsed Sarma’s letter.

In his second letter sent on Monday (October 23), Sarma said he hoped the ECI had taken cognisance of his complaint. He pointed out four relating issues, including saying that public servants engaging in this kind of activity had the power to influence voters and electoral outcomes.

The ECI, Sarma argued, had a duty to act on the matter. “If the Commission fails to discharge its responsibilities envisaged under Article 324 and the relevant election laws, it will undoubtedly amount to causing irreparable damage to the democratic values that lie at the core of the Constitution,” he wrote.

Read his full letter below.

§

E A S Sarma
Former Secretary to the Government of India

To

Shri Rajiv Kumar
Chief Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Shri A C Pandey
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Shri Arun Goel
Election Commissioner
Election Commission of India (ECI)

Dear S/Shri Rajiv Kumar/ Pandey/ Goel,

I write this in continuation of my letter of October 21, 2023 in which I pointed out that the instructions issued by the Department of Personnel, vide F.no. 1-28047/8/2023 dated 17-10-2023 and other 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 20th November 2023 to 25th January 2024″, on the eve of the State Assembly elections, brazenly violate the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) for those elections.

I hope that the Election Commission of India (ECI) has taken due cognizance of my complaint and acted as it should, as an independent authority under the Constitution to ensure that the said elections are conducted in a free and fair manner.

There are related issues, as indicated below, on which I would call upon the ECI to act immediately and unhesitatingly.

1. Public servants taking part in any activity that is likely to influence the voters in an election violates the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules and the corresponding conduct rules of the other Central and All India Services.

2. Under Section 171C of the IPC, “whoever voluntarily interferes or attempts to interfere with the free exercise of any electoral right commits the offence of undue influence at an election“.  For any public authority to coerce public servants into such activity is punishable not only under the relevant election laws but also under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)

3. The Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs Office Memorandum No.25/44/49/Ests. dated 10th October 1949 states,  “ Attention is invited to the scope of Rule 23(I) of the Government Servants’ Conduct Rules which lays down that no Government servant shall take part in, subscribe in aid or assist in any way, any political movement in India“. These instructions assume particular relevance in relation to the concern expressed by me.

4. At least four Union Ministers are reported to be contesting the ensuing State assembly elections. Deploying Central government officers in activity that amounts to canvassing for the ruling political parties in elections they are contesting would clearly attract disqualification under the relevant provisions of the election laws, which the ECI should examine urgently.

The precedent set by the Central government by issuing the said instructions to its officers to “showcase/celebrate achievements of the NDA government during the last nine years through ‘Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra'” is likely to incentivise the political leadership in each State that will go for Assembly elections shortly to do likewise and instruct its own officers to canvass for them, leading to anarchy and erosion of democratic values that are central to the electoral system envisaged in our Constitution. The Commission cannot afford to remain passive and become an abettor of such a potentially dangerous process.

May I call upon the ECI to act urgently on these concerns and act without hesitation to make sure that no political party gets an undue advantage in the ensuing State Assembly elections?

If the Commission fails to discharge its responsibilities envisaged under Article 324 and the relevant election laws, it will undoubtedly amount to causing irreparable damage to the democratic values that lie at the core of the Constitution.

I am circulating this letter widely for the public to discuss and debate the above concerns and the role that the Commission ought to play as an independent Constitutional authority.

Regards,

Yours sincerely,

E A S Sarma
Visakhapatnam
23-10-2023

Make a contribution to Independent Journalism