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Kejriwal arrest: Why is poll panel silent on politics of vendetta?, ask ex-civil servants

Counterview Desk 

As many 87 former civil servants, who are part of the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), in an open letter to the Election Commission of India, referring to the recent arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, have wondered whether the top poll panel is abiding by its own commitment for level playing field between different political parties.
Addressed to ECI officials Rajiv Kumar, Gyanesh Kumar and Dr SS Sandhu, in their representation said, “A disturbing pattern of harassment and witch hunting of opposition parties and opposition politicians on the cusp of the general elections calls into question the motivation of the agencies”, asking why is ECI sitting silent amidst “politics of vendetta”.

Text:

We are a group of former civil servants who have served the Central and State governments in various capacities. We have no affiliation with any political party but are strongly committed to the ideals enshrined in the Constitution of India.
In the Election Commission of India (ECI) meeting with officers nominated as Election Observers on 11 March 2024, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) had stressed the importance of ensuring a level playing field for all political parties and candidates and keeping the polls free from intimidation and inducements. Just ten days after his exhortation, Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi was arrested, in what is known as the Delhi liquor policy case, under the draconian provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, where securing bail is extremely difficult. We are not questioning the right of law enforcement agencies to take steps to check corruption in high places and bring to book the guilty. What we are concerned about is the timing of this arrest. The liquor policy case has been investigated for over thirteen months and two prominent Aam Aadmi Party leaders have been in custody for months, with one of them, Sanjay Singh, being released on bail recently, while the former Depuy Chief Minister, Manish Sisodia, continues in jail. Even if it is the case of the investigating agency that Mr. Kejriwal was evading summons to appear before them, nothing stopped them from questioning him, if necessary, at his residence. The arrest of a senior opposition political functionary at a juncture when the Lok Sabha elections had been announced and the Model Code of Conduct was in place reeks, to our mind, of deliberate, motivated executive action. The law must take its course, as many legal worthies today never tire of saying, but the heavens would not have fallen if coercive action had been initiated after the end of the election process on 4 June 2024. One could understand that in the case of a criminal investigation relating to the right to life of a citizen, immediate arrest may be warranted. Surely, this would not apply in the case of a prominent political figure who is hardly likely to be a flight risk and, in whose case, with the investigations having gone on for so many months, the possibilities of tampering with evidence and influencing witnesses are quite remote.
The AAP CM arrest is not an isolated instance. A disturbing pattern of harassment and witch hunting of opposition parties and opposition politicians on the cusp of the general elections calls into question the motivation of the agencies. It is puzzling why the Income Tax department should reopen old assessments of the Indian National Congress, as well as those of other opposition parties, that too on the eve of a general election. Carrying out searches of the premises related to Mahua Moitra, the Trinamool Congress politician who is a candidate in the Lok Sabha elections, at this juncture, and issuing notices to other opposition candidates, again defies explanation. Given the tardy record of the central law enforcement agencies in completing investigations and filing charge sheets, the undue zeal in selectively pursuing these cases gives rise to the suspicion that the motivation goes beyond a mere desire to enforce justice. More importantly, the arrest of political functionaries and the harassment of political parties after the election process has started not only deprives individuals of the exercise of their fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution of India to canvass for their candidates but also distracts political parties from focusing on the primary task of conducting their election campaign. 

Leave alone dealing with arbitrary executive actions with a heavy hand, Election Commission has not even issued a note of caution

The pattern of events over the past month calls for firm action from the ECI to quell rising public suspicion that the ECI is sitting silent while a politics of vendetta is being practiced to deny opposition parties the freedom to actively participate in the election process. To ensure that this does not continue, we are of the view that, just as the entire government machinery in the states functions under the control and supervision of the ECI, activities of the machinery at the Central government level, especially the law enforcement agencies, should be controlled by the ECI through exercise of its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution of India. Else, if state government law enforcement agencies adopt an approach similar to that of the central agencies, the resulting anarchy would make a mess of the entire electoral process.
We are deeply disturbed by the failure of the ECI to take immediate action in this matter. Media reports show that a delegation of members of prominent opposition parties met the CEC and the Election Commissioners as long back as 21 March 2024. However, leave alone dealing with such arbitrary executive actions with a heavy hand, the ECI has not even issued a note of caution in this regard.
Our group has been interacting with the ECI since 2017 and has sent many letters to your predecessors: there has been no response from the ECI over the past five years. We note that the ECI has reneged from its earlier stand opposing electoral bonds. The ECI has made no efforts to assuage doubts in the minds of the thinking public and political parties about the integrity of EVMs and the need to use VVPATs effectively to ensure accuracy in the recording of votes, a matter that is now sub judice. Nor has the ECI been particularly effective in enforcing the Model Code of Conduct to check its misuse, especially by the party in power. Our group had pointed out many such instances in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but, apart from minor slaps on the wrist, the ECI failed to enforce its writ on repeated offenders. In the current elections as well, infractions of the Model Code of Conduct by no less a personage than the Prime Minister have not been acted upon by the ECI even after these were brought to its notice.
In spite of the enormous powers vested in it under Article 324 of the Constitution of India, the ECI, in recent years, has exhibited a strange diffidence, especially in dealing with actions that impact the conduct of free and fair elections. We urge the ECI to live up to the shining legacy bequeathed by a line of eminent persons who have led the ECI in the past seven decades. The nation looks to you to act with firmness and determination to maintain the reputation and sanctity of the world’s largest electoral exercise.
Satyameva Jayate
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