ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Crisis of Credibility


[Letter addressed to the President of India dated 8 April 2019]

We are a group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services, who have come together to use our pooled experience of decades of service to the Constitution of India, to protect and further the values enshrined in it. As a group, we have no affiliations with any political party. Many in our group have, over the past six decades, been involved with the conduct and supervision of elections in India. We write to express our deep anguish that the Election Commission of India (ECI), which has had a long and honourable record of holding free and fair elections despite the enormous challenges of scale and complexity, is suffering from a crisis of credibility today. The ECI’s independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are perceived to be compromised today, thereby endangering the integrity of the electoral process, which is the very foundation of Indian democracy. We are distressed to note the misuse, abuse and blatant disregard of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) by the ruling party at the centre, and the ECI’s pusillanimity in coming down with a heavy hand on these violations. We would like to bring to your attention a number of glaring instances:

The Prime Minister made a public announcement on 27 March 2019 about the successful launch of India’s first anti-
satellite weapon (ASAT), which made India the fourth nation in the world with anti-satellite missile capabilities. While the timing of the exercise is questionable, even more questionable is the fact that the announcement of the launch was made with much fanfare by the Prime Minister, when propriety demanded that it should have been left to the officials of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at a time when the MCC was operative. The country was facing no immediate security threat that required the Prime Minister, who is an election candidate himself, to make a public announcement. On the purely technical ground that the announcement was not made on the public broadcasting service, the ECI held that there had been no violation of the MCC. We feel, however, that parading the achievements of a government in this manner after the announcement of elections is tantamount to a serious breach of propriety and amounts to giving unfair publicity to the party presently in government and that the ECI’s decision does not stand up to the standards of impartiality expected of it.

Our group addressed a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner (which was also made public) on 26 March 2019, requesting the ECI to issue directions to withhold the release of all biopics and documentaries on any political personages through any media mechanism until the conclusion of the electoral process. While the ECI is still to respond to our letter, we understand from media reports that a biopic on the present Prime Minister is slated for release on 11 April 2019; the day of commencement of the polling process. This, in our opinion, represents a backdoor effort to garner free publicity for a political person (and his party). In the event that this biopic is released even while the election process is ongoing, we contend that the entire expenses on the production, distribution, and publicity of the biopic should be debited to the election expenses of Narendra Modi.

The ECI has been acting with the same lethargy in respect of the NaMo television channel launched on 31 March 2019, which, without any formal approval of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, is propagating the image and views of Modi. The DTH (direct to home) service provider Tata Sky initially called it a “Hindi news service channel” and later back-tracked and called it a “special service” not requiring any licence. The brazen violation of democratic norms may be seen from the fact that the channel has been added to all subscribers’ accounts as a “launch offer” with “no option to delete the individual channel.”

While the ECI has passed orders transferring three top police officers and the chief secretary in Andhra Pradesh and four top police officers in West Bengal, we find it curious that no such steps have been taken in Tamil Nadu, where the present director general of police (DGP) is reportedly under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Gutkha scam case and there have been repeated appeals by the opposition parties in Tamil Nadu seeking his removal from that post. He is also on extension beyond the normal date of his superannuation and, as per the ECI norms, such officers should not be assigned election duties. Even more significantly, the same officer had been ordered by the ECI to be transferred during the 2016 Tamil Nadu assembly elections. It is unfortunate that different yardsticks have been applied in the cases of the former commissioner of police, Kolkata and the DGP, Tamil Nadu.

The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) Yogi Adityanath had, at a recent public election meeting, referred to the armed forces as the army of Modi. A similar statement has been made at another election meeting by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionary. Such irresponsible statements by a very high constitutional functionary and a political party official not only constitute an insult to your position as the Supreme Commander of the Defence Forces of India, but also amount to a deliberate attempt to mislead the general public, apart from damaging the tradition of the armed forces as apolitical formations. Strongest action is required from the ECI to nip such cavalier statements in the bud, but the ECI has contented itself in the present case with a mild reprimand to the UP chief minister. We certainly hope and pray that such mild responses do not embolden others to violate the MCC and weaken the institutions that support our democracy.

We also note with consternation the departure from all civilised norms in the speeches being delivered by political personages, both those holding high constitutional positions and others. In particular, we would like to draw attention to a speech by Modi at Wardha, Maharashtra on 1 April 2019 where, to quote the news channel, he allegedly said “The Congress insulted Hindus. People have decided to punish it in the election. Leaders of that party are now scared of contesting from constituencies dominated by the majority population. That is why they are forced to take refuge in places where the majority is a minority.” He has made a similar statement at an election rally in Nanded, Maharashtra on 6 April 2019. Such divisive speeches, with clear innuendoes, constitute a violation of one of the first requirements stipulated in the MCC: “No party or candidate shall indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.” It is incumbent on the ECI to keep a close watch on all such activities and make it clear to all political parties, candidates and their workers that any such efforts to exploit communal or other divisions in society will attract the strongest action. We understand from media reports that the ECI has sought a report from the chief electoral officer, Maharashtra. We hope that appropriate strict action will be taken to discourage all such incendiary speeches.

In our open letter dated 24 February 2019, our group detailed our proposal to the ECI for the proper implementation of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT)-based audits of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the forthcoming elections. The ECI made an astonishing submission before the Supreme Court that if manual counting of VVPAT slips of 50% of the EVMs is done (as prayed for in a joint public interest litigation [PIL] by 21 opposition parties), the election results would be delayed by six days when everyone is aware that, even in the days of paper ballots, the counting used to get over within eight to 15 hours and the results were declared either the same day or the next day. The ECI had constituted an Experts Committee to make recommendations on the VVPAT-based audit. This was a simple matter that required only two or three sittings of the Experts Committee and could have been finalised in less than a month. The first meeting of the Experts Committee was held on 4 October 2018. The next meeting was mysteriously delayed by five months and was held without inviting the members who expressed dissenting views in the first meeting. The ECI’s obdurate conduct and its reluctance to undertake a proper VVPAT audit when its present sample size fails to detect a “defective EVM” (that is, a malfunctioning or manipulated EVM) 99% of the time raise serious questions about its motives for doing so.

We are deeply concerned about the weak-kneed conduct of the ECI, which has reduced the credibility of this constitutional body to an all-time low. Any erosion in the people’s confidence in the fairness of the ECI has very grave consequences for the future of our democracy, and we hope that the gravity of the situation will be appreciated by the ECI. We appeal through you, to the ECI to conduct itself in a manner where its independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency are not questioned and to firmly exercise the extensive mandate given to it under Article 324 of the Constitution to ensure that the Indian voter is able to exercise their franchise without fear or favour.

Salahuddin Ahmad, S P Ambrose, N Bala Baskar, Vappala Balachandran, Gopalan Balagopal, Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan and 60 others.

1. Salahuddin Ahmad

IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan

2. S.P. Ambrose

IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI

3. N. BalaBaskar

IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (Finance), Ministry of External Affairs, GoI

4. Vappala Balachandran

IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI

5. GopalanBalagopal

IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal

6. ChandrashekharBalakrishnan

IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI

7. Pradip Bhattacharya

IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Development & Planning and Administrative Training Institute, Govt. of West Bengal

8. Meeran C Borwankar

IPS (Retd.) Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI

9. Ravi Budhiraja

IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, GoI

10. Sundar Burra

IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

11. R. Chandramohan

IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Secretary, Transport and Urban Development, Govt. of NCT of Delhi

12. SomChaturvedi

IRTS (Retd.) Former Additional Member, Railway Board, GoI

13. Anna Dani

IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra

14. VibhaPuri Das

IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs, GoI

15. P.R. Dasgupta

IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI

16. NareshwarDayal

IFS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs and former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom

17. Nitin Desai

IES (Retd.) Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI

18. KeshavDesiraju

IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI


M.G. Devasahayam

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana


Sushil Dubey

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Sweden



IRS (Retd.)

Former Governance Adviser, DFID, Govt. of the United Kingdom (on deputation)


Gourisankar Ghosh

IAS (Retd.)

Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI


Tuktuk Ghosh

IAS (Retd.)

Former Special Secretary and Financial Adviser, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways, Shipping & Tourism, GoI


S.K. Guha

IAS (Retd.)

Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI


Meena Gupta

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI


Sajjad Hassan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur


Siraj Hussain

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture, GoI


Jagdish Joshi

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Maharashtra


Najeeb Jung

IAS (Retd.)

Former Lieutenant Governor, Delhi


Rahul Khullar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India



Ajai Kumar

Indian Forest Service (Retd.)

Former Director, Ministry of Agriculture, GoI


Arun Kumar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, GoI


Brijesh Kumar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI


Sudhir Kumar

IAS (Retd.)

Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal


Subodh Lal

IPoS (Retd.)

Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI


P.M.S. Malik

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Myanmar & Special Secretary, MEA, GoI


Harsh Mander

IAS (Retd.)

Govt. of Madhya Pradesh



IAS (Retd.)

Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI


Aditi Mehta

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan


Shivshankar Menon

IFS (Retd.)

Former Foreign Secretary and Former National Security Adviser



IFS (Resigned)



Sunil Mitra

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI


Deb Mukharji

IFS (Retd.)

Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal



IA&AS (Retd.)

Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala



IAS (Retd.)

Former Principal Secretary (Planning), Govt. of Karnataka


P.G.J. Nampoothiri

IPS (Retd.)

Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat



IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI


Niranjan Pant

IA&AS (Retd.)

Former Deputy Comptroller & Auditor General of India



IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI


V.P. Raja

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission


K. Rajivan

IAS (Resigned)

Former Director, Prime Minister’s Office, GoI


Julio Ribeiro

IPS (Retd.)

Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania


Manabendra N. Roy

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal


Deepak Sanan

IAS (Retd.)

Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh


N.C. Saxena

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI


Ardhendu Sen

IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal




IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI


Aftab Seth

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Japan


Navrekha Sharma

IFS (Retd.)

Former Ambassador to Indonesia


Pravesh Sharma

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh


Raju Sharma

IAS (Retd.)

Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh


Rashmi Shukla Sharma

IAS (Retd.)

Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh



IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, PrasarBharati


P.S.S. Thomas

IAS (Retd.)

Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission



IAS (Retd.)

Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir



IAS (Retd.)

Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra

Updated On : 12th Apr, 2019


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