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Everything Wrong With Government Officers as Political Campaigners

Suhit K Sen |
Officers are not pracharaks—opposition to the latest BJP brainwave begins from this fundamental precept.

Representational use only.

Over the past decade or so, you can tell when it’s election time in India from the frenetic activity of the Sangh parivar, especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its governments, which set out to deploy everything at hand for electioneering. It doesn’t matter if the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is shredded because subverted institutions—in this case, the Election Commission of India (ECI)—do not apply the brakes.

The Union government issued a circular dated 17 October, ordering the deployment of government officers in all 765 districts of the country between 20 November and 26 January to celebrate the achievements of the Modi regime. Let us recall a few dates. The Assembly elections in Mizoram have been scheduled for 7 November; for Telangana, 30 November; for Chhattisgarh, 7 and 17 November; for Madhya Pradesh, 17 November; and for Rajasthan, 23 November. Counting and results are slated for 3 December.

The election schedule was announced on 9 October, with the MCC coming into effect immediately.

The Opposition and citizens’ groups have assailed it, correctly pointing out that the deployment of permanent government employees to publicise a particular regime’s ‘achievements’ is in conflict with both the MCC and service rules. Apologists of the regime may argue that only Rajasthan and Telangana will go to the polls during the publicity binge, but that misses several points, among which are the simple propositions that the MCC cannot be violated, or, government employees deployed for partisan purposes at any time, under any circumstances.

This publicity scheme will directly be part of the BJP’s election campaign in Rajasthan and Telangana and set the stage for the election campaigns for the parliamentary elections slated for around May next year. This is blatant misuse of government apparatuses.

There is an additional issue: The Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra, of which the deployment of government officers is one element, involves the printing of 3.34 crore calendars, 88 lakh pocket booklets and 1.67 crore brochures in English, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu as publicity material. That amounts to the use of public money for the BJP’s campaign.

Let us recall here that Indira Gandhi’s election from Rae Bareli in the 1971 parliamentary elections, defeating Raj Narain, had been invalidated by Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha on the charge, mainly, that she had utilised the services of a government employee, Yashpal Kapur, first to help her campaign and then as her election agent, despite the fact that she argued Kapur had submitted his resignation letter on 13 January, with the resignation coming into effect from 14 January, before joining the campaign. She also argued that there was no evidence that Kapur had delivered speeches endorsing her candidature as early as 7 January. In other words, the benefit of the doubt was given to Narain, one presumes, to uphold the highest standards of probity and rule-bound conduct.

As of now, it is up to the ECI to take a quick call, given that representations have already been made to it and others. Given that this critical institution has been suborned by the regime, we need not hold our collective breaths. The ECI has developed to a fine art a technique to give the regime and its proponents a pass, even for the most egregious of violations: sitting on representations for the entire duration of the campaign and polling and delivering a meaningless decision when everything’s done and dusted.

All of these developments are linked to the weaponisation of law enforcement agencies to strike at political opponents and dissenters. One commentator has expressed the legitimate fear that the prosecution of author-commentator Arundhati Roy, by resurrecting a charge dating back to and dismissed in 2010, is a test case, which, if allowed to ride by the international community that has often expressed its admiration for her, will embolden the regime to progress further and faster towards binning the Constitution, while it barrels in the direction of a one-party state.

Midnight knocks on the door became a part of the armoury of the state when dissenters working with and for the rights of Dalits and tribal people were enmeshed in the Bhima-Koregaon case. Let us not forget that the two people named in the initial FIR, Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, ‘Guruji’ to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others, were not properly proceeded against and the case transferred to the National Investigative Agency when the Maha Vikas Aghadi government was planning to put it back on the rails.

From then, too, the coinage of meaningless phrases like ‘love jihadi’ and ‘urban Naxal’ to denote the critics and opponents of the regime as a basis for persecution and silencing.

Attempts to corrode the institutional and ideological foundations of constitutional democracy, come at a cost to the exchequer—that’s us, incidentally. All those who voted this regime in twice on the back of Modi’s promise that neither would he engage in corruption nor allow others to do so may inspect the record, almost a decade into its tenure. Going backwards, we’ve just seen the transfer of three officers of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s office for having the temerity to do their jobs properly and find ‘irregularities’—meaning corruption—in the Bharatmala and Ayushman Bharat schemes.

Regime apologists say that allegations abound but nothing has been proven. If nothing has been proven, it’s because of the shroud that veils the loot. Creating a fund to meet the Covid-19 situation that has no accountability at all is the primary example. The Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PMCARES) Fund was created (despite the existence of a number of such corpuses) with the express condition that it would not be subject to any audit—even the CAG’s remit didn’t run to it. One argument advanced was that since citizens were donating money, audits were not necessary. Then we got to know that public-sector enterprises were strong-armed into making donations. That means public money, which should always be subject to audit. The same goes for the electoral bonds scheme. It functions essentially to allow cronies to fund the ruling party with unaccounted money—a convenient laundromat.

The two United Progressive Alliance governments that preceded this regime got entangled in a number of corruption allegations—the 2G, coal and the Commonwealth Games scams, most prominently. But all these were probed at the highest level—a Joint Parliamentary Committee looked at the 2G case, while the Central Bureau of Investigation investigated the Commonwealth and coal cases. Thus far, the Modi regime has not agreed to probe any major scam or allegations at any level.

The attempt to use the bureaucracy, already pummelled into submission by precisely the kind of action taken against the CAG officers, and public money for campaigning can be stopped only by the ECI at this point, since it is unlikely that the judiciary will intervene in the domain of the executive until the statutory body tasked with ensuring ‘free and fair’ does its job.

Which means nothing will transpire in a hurry and the country will hurtle into the dystopia of one nation, one state, one election, one party and two and a half leaders, unless they are brought down by the power of the vote.

The author is an independent journalist and writer. The views are personal.

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