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'No government ever stooped so low'

Last updated on: October 30, 2023 10:51 IST
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'It is violation of the Model Code of Conduct.'
'It is a penal offence under the IPC to exert undue influence on voters.'
'Under the election law, it is a corrupt practice.'

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra D Modi at the BJP's central election committee meeting on the Rajasthan elections, October 20, 2023. Photograph: Ayush Sharma/ANI Photo

The subject of a circular dated the 18th of October by the ministry of finance was, 'Nomination of officers of the rank of joint secretaries/director/deputy secretary pertaining to various levels for deployment as district rath prabharis (special officers) at each 765 districts covering 2.69 lakh Gram Panchayats in the country'.

It went on to say that the duty was to 'showcase/celebrate the achievements of the last nine years of the government through a Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra from November 20, 2023 and January 25, 2024'.

Congress Spokesperson Pawan Khera posted the circular on social media and asked, How can civil servants be ordered to conduct political propaganda for a government going into elections?

Retired senior bureaucrats like E A S Sarma and M G Devasahayam wrote to the Election Commission expressing their concern on using IAS officers and other civil servants as 'rath prabharis'.

Dr E A S Sarma, an 1965 batch IAS officer, served in the Union finance and power ministries before he opted for voluntary retirement from the IAS in 2000 after differences with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

"Civil services conduct rules do not allow civil servants to participate in political activities. And forcing civil servants to violate the conduct rules is also an offence," Dr Sarma tells's Shobha Warrier.

After resigning from service, you have been writing many letters on issues that concerned you or bothered you to various authorities.
You wrote many letters to Dr Manmohan Singh when he was prime minister, and also to Narendra Modi.
Have the issues changed? And the response too?

I write letters not necessarily for a response from somebody. I want it to be in the public domain, and I want it to start a discussion among the people.

I find that generally, 30% to 40% of such letters generate discussion among the public.

Sometimes I get response from those to whom I write letters to. For example, Dr Manmohan Singh himself responded once to me when I asked him to declare his assets. He was the prime minister at that time. He telephoned me directly and said, I have declared my assets.

I told him I don't question your integrity. What about your Cabinet colleagues?

He said, I have asked all of them to disclose.

I told him that I could then ask all other state senior politicians to also disclose their assets.

When Shri Somnath Chatterjee was Speaker of the Lok Sabha, I wrote a letter asking for a law to be processed for enactment to regulate parliamentary proceedings where the Speaker would have the authority.

When he did not reply, I wrote again saying that I would release the letter saying Somnath Chatterjee did not consider himself accountable to the public.

Then he replied, saying he was very sorry as he did not see the letter. He asked me to go to Delhi and meet him so that we could talk over a cup of tea. So, the next time when I went to Delhi, I contacted him and met him at his residence. We had a very good chat over a cup of tea.

After that, he held three rounds of discussions with a large group of academics, social activists, politicians on the subject I had raised and other Parliamentary reforms.

So, I would say I had some response here and there to my letters.

Like I said in the beginning, the purpose is not to get a response from Shri Modi or any other politician. It is to start a public discussion.

The latest letter you have written is to the Election Commission about using administrative officers as rath prabharis to showcase the government's achievements in the last nine years.

They (Election Commission) say they have registered the complaint and looking into it.

I am happy that there has been a wider public discussion on it, and people are questioning the very idea.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Modi at the laying of the foundation stone of various developmental projects in Nizamabad, Telangana, October 3, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

What worried you the most? The blatant use of public servants for government propaganda, or violation of the Model Code of Conduct as the dates for the assembly elections have been announced?

Both. The first thing is, the government just can't use public servants for such a publicity campaign. limited to nine years of NDA rule alone. Civil servants don't do this kind of work. Why showcase only nine years of achievements? Why not 10 or 15 years?

Second is the Model Code of Conduct. With the time frame given for the campaign as November 20, 2023 and January 25, 2024, it includes not just the coming assembly elections but the Parliament elections in 2024 too.

So, the government are not only misusing public funds, but public resources too.

To the best of my knowledge, no other government ever stooped so low.

IMAGE: Dr E A S Sarma. Photograph: Kind courtesy Dr EAS Sarma

You said, this is unethical and illegal...

Ethics is very important.

But more than ethics, it is violation of the Model Code of Conduct. It is a penal offence under the IPC (Indian Penal Code) to exert undue influence on voters. Under the election law, it is a corrupt practice.

Another interesting thing is, the civil services conduct rules do not allow civil servants to participate in political activities. And forcing civil servants to violate the conduct rules is also an offence.

So, in several ways, it is illegal.

Coming to ethics, we have these people elected through democratic means. And they defeat those democratic values when they come to power. They take advantage of the Constitution by getting elected through democratic means and then make a mockery of the Constitution. That's where ethics enter the picture.

That's why I feel this is both unethical and illegal.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

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