Open Letter To President of India Regarding Ruling Party Using Its Power To Influence Elections

by E A S Sarma And Jagdeep S. Chhokar

Centre’s move to deploy government machinery and resources in an activity that will influence voters in ensuing elections cuts at the very root of democracy


Smt. Droupadi Murmu

Hon’ble President of India

Respected Rashtrapati Ji,

As concerned citizens, we wish to place before you our deep concern at a move recently made by the political leadership at the Centre to engage senior functionaries of the Central government in an activity that blurs the line between the party in power and its role as the head of the executive, giving an undue advantage for the ruling party on the eve of the ensuing State Assembly elections.

The Department of Personnel, vide 1-28047/8/2023 dated 17-10-2023 seemed to have instructed all Ministries to nominate senior officers as “District Rath Prabharis” 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″, a time frame that immediately precedes the ensuing State Assembly elections and overlaps the electioneering period. Several Ministries, including the Ministry of Finance (Department of Revenue) and the Ministry of Defence ( have issued instructions based on it. 

In the specific case of the Ministry of Defence, such an unprecedented move implies that officers of the Defence Ministry would be engaged in showcasing the NDA government’s achievements on the eve of elections, which may not be consistent with the apolitical role that one expects them to play. 

This is the first time that political leadership in power at the Centre has engaged its entire machinery and public resources to promote its image on the eve of elections, placing the political parties in opposition at a disadvantage. In our view, in addition to constituting a brazen infringement of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC), this amounts to a corrupt practice that should attract urgent deterrent action from the Election Commission of India (ECI). 

The civil services in India owe their existence to Part XIV of the Constitution. Sardar Patel who laid thefoundation for the civil services, while addressing trainee civil servants on April 21, 1947, emphasised that they should “maintain the utmost impartiality and incorruptibility of administration. A civil servant cannot afford to, and must not, take part in politics” it was on that basis that the civil services conduct rules were framed.

Under those Rules, civil servants are prohibited from taking part in any activity that is likely to exert an undue influence on the electorate. 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 the present context.

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 an activity is punishable not only under the relevant election laws but also under the relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

At least four Union Ministers are reported to be contesting the ensuing State Assembly elections ( Deploying Central government officers in an activity that literally amounts to canvassing for the ruling political party in elections they are contesting would negate all democratic norms. It would also perhaps attract their disqualification under the relevant provisions of the election laws, which the ECI should examine urgently.

The latest move on the part of the Centre clearly makes a mockery of the vision of Sardar Patel on the role of the civil services.

The Centre’s brazen move, referred to above, has wider implications. Firstly, considering that the campaign to showcase the NDA government’s achievements, for the time being, will extend up to January 25, 2024, it will amount to deploying civil servants and public resources to influence the voters even during the 2024 Parliament elections. Secondly, the Centre’s move has set an unhealthy precedent to encourage the political leadership in each State going for elections to do likewise, deploying their government machinery and resources in electioneering, a situation that would certainly lead to anarchy and wholesale, irreversible erosion of democratic values.

In recent times, the present political establishment at the Centre has displayed its indifference and insensitivity to the need to uphold the integrity of the electoral processes and ensure the independence of the ECI as envisaged in Article 324 of the Constitution.

For example, ignoring the norms stipulated by the apex court of India in a recent judgement on selection of candidates to be appointed as Election Commissioners, the present government introduced the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners (Appointment, Conditions of Service and Term of Office) Bill in the Parliament, which deliberately excluded the Chief Justice of India from the selection committee, rendering the process of selection non-transparent and loaded the selection committee with its own representatives, thus making a mockery of the idea of an independent Election Commission. But for a public outcry against it, the Bill would have been rushed through the Parliament with little discussion, reducing the Election Commission to no more than a rubber stamp. Already, in the absence of an independent transparent selection process, the Commission has tended to act more like an appendage of the government than an independent authority envisaged in the Constitution. 

The present government’s move to introduce such regressive legislation in a hurry, its reluctance to adopt several electoral reform measures proposed by the earlier incumbents of the office of the Commission and the latest move to engage the entire machinery of the government and its resources in electioneering point to eroding the sanctity of the Constitution and its democratic values. Ignoring such an unprecedented move on the part of those who are in a position to intervene would cause permanent damage to India’s democracy.

We feel that by now the ECI ought to have taken cognisance of the latest move of the government to engage its officers in electioneering work and issued directions to the Central government to revoke the relevant instructions. To the best of our knowledge, the Commission is yet to initiate action.

The Commission’s reluctance to recognise the inherent deficiencies in the use of EVMs in elections, its reluctance to order 100% cross-verification of the EVM count with the paper trail and its outright violation of the secrecy requirement of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 by ignoring the fact that the use of EVMs without totaliser facility violates booth-wise secrecy of voting, tend to show its reluctance to discharge its legitimate responsibilities as an independent authority under the Constitution. 

In view of the above, we seek your urgent intervention to ensure that the Election Commission acts urgently and unhesitatingly in the above matter and directs the Central Government to revoke the above-cited instructions in order to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process.


E A S Sarma

Former Secretary to the Government of India

Jagdeep S. Chhokar

Former Dean, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A)

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