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War of words breaks out between former civil servants over Modi biopic & EC credibility

A second group of ex-civil servants has written to President Ram Nath Kovind to ‘counter’ the first group’s allegation last week that the EC was ‘weak-kneed’.

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New Delhi: A war of words has broken out between two groups of former civil servants over the controversial biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a final call on which is yet to be taken by the Election Commission.

An EC team watched the Modi biopic, PM Narendra Modi, Wednesday afternoon at the Films Division-owned Mahadev Road theatre in the capital, on the directions of the Supreme Court. The team is expected to give its verdict on whether the film can be released during the Lok Sabha elections.

The battle between the two groups of former officials came to the fore after both wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind, one calling the poll watchdog “weak-kneed” and the other coming out in support of its credibility.

‘Pressure tactics’

The first group had written to the President on 8 April, raising concerns over the “independence, fairness, impartiality and efficiency” of the EC.

The second group wrote to the President on 16 April, stating that the EC is being discredited by the first group.

Former IPS officer R.S. Gupta, who led the second group, told ThePrint that “pressure tactics” exercised by the first group would have led the EC to ban the Modi biopic during the election period without even watching it. He insisted that the poll watchdog is free from any kind of influence and is a credible body.

Gupta, a former Delhi Police commissioner, is currently associated with several organisations, including Samkalp, a civil services coaching institute supported by the RSS.

Asked if the EC can be influenced by a group of retired civil servants and if that portrays the poll commissioned is indeed “weak-kneed”, Gupta said: “A narrative was created by one particular group of former civil servants to ensure the EC acts on the way they feel. Perhaps on account of huge pressure, it postponed the release of the biopic without even seeing it.”

Also read: Why Election Commission changed its mind on Modi biopic and stopped its release

Defence of NaMo TV

The second group’s letter also defended NaMo TV, saying it doesn’t require a licence, as well as a 10-part web series on Modi.

Another member of this group, Chandra Wadhwa, former president of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India and a trustee of the think-tank India Foundation, said its letter to President Kovind was purely to counter what first group of former bureaucrats had said, and not to influence the EC.

“The letter written by these 66 bureaucrats was in the language of the opposition. Our letter was to counter that. How can you dictate terms to the EC on EVMs and on which officials to transfer?” Wadhwa said.

First group’s response

However, former IAS officer Jawhar Sircar, who was a signatory to the first letter, said: “When the Constitution is in danger, it is for us to speak up to our former colleagues in the EC. And we stand up being aware that we would sacrifice favours from the government.”

Talking about the Modi biopic, Sircar said the first group’s letter had at least brought the matter into public discourse.

“Even the EC’s half-hearted order on NaMo TV came after 12 days, but how can it be ensured it doesn’t violate Section 126 of the Representation of the People Act?”

Sircar also alleged that there is “always a user-friendly section” among civil servants who has “given us a bad name”.

“It is the same group which genuflects after retirement for petty gains and rewards from government post-retirement,” he said.

Asked if he was referring specifically to the second group of civil servants, he said: “I leave it to the people to find out.”

Also read: NaMo TV not a television channel, doesn’t need licence, ex-civil servants tell President

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  1. 1. I think there will be individuals and their groups who would claim that they are speaking to strengthen our democracy. There is no harm in listening to all of them. But let us accept the reality: neither the Supreme Court nor the Election Commission of India can bring about changes without active participation of citizen-voters. Hence I think we citizen-voters should do what we can do. We should not forget that if we want a healthy and stable democracy in our country, we cannot delay implementation of some important reforms. First reform is about functioning of our investigation agencies. All citizen-voters like me wish that Enforcement Directorate, CBI and other investigation agencies’ officials be allowed to work with full freedom and without political interference. 2. What are election law reforms which we citizens desire to be implemented and wish that they should be part of manifesto of every political party? They are the following: (a) First is compulsory audit of accounts of all, political parties by a professionally qualified auditor. Without yearly audit and a clean report by the auditor no political party should be allowed to contest election. (b) Curbs on use of black money in elections. At present the Election Commission of India (ECI) has no right to scrutinize and examine declarations of expenses submitted by candidates contesting elections. Hence it is necessary to empower ECI about scrutiny of expenses. (c) Third reform is about declaration of assets by individuals who contest elections. Such declarations should be supported by statements of income as per Income Tax Returns, whenever possible. It is also desirable that ECI is empowered to scrutinise the declarations of wealth/assets and income. At present ECI merely takes such declarations on record and does no scrutiny. 3. Lastly, it would be necessary to ensure that all legal cases pending against ministers, ex-ministers, former and sitting MLAs, MPs and all politicians should be tried in Fast Track Special Courts (FTSCs) on a top priority basis. For this an appropriate amendment to our Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes and possibly a few more laws may be required. As suggested by the Supreme Court, a law bill was moved in the Parliament, which I believe it yet to be approved by the Parliament. This law bill provides for establishment of FTSCs and all political parties must ensure that it is passed by both houses of Parliament in 2019 itself. I guess after FTSCs are set up there will be much faster adjudication of corruption and other cases against politicians. I am sure that there will be a positive change in our political scene: role of money in elections will certainly be curtailed and objective behind issue of electoral bonds will be partly achieved.

  2. The ECI is one of our most trusted, valued public institutions, just a notch or two below the apex court. Transient moments of stress will pass. One hopes both sides – as represented by these two sets of retired civil servants – will observe restraint, not contribute to the undermining of its credibility.

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