June 02, 2024
Open Statement by Former Civil Servants on Post-Election Scenario

Below we publish an open statement issued by the Constitutional Conduct Group comprising former civil servants, on May 25, 2024. The statement was signed by 98 signatories. Some of the signatories include Shivshankar Menon, former foreign secretary and former national security adviser; K Sujatha Rao, former health secretary, GoI; Maxwell Pereira, former joint commissioner of police, Delhi; Satya Narayan Mohanty, former secretary general, National Human Rights Commission; Sajjad Hassan, former commissioner (planning), Govt of Manipur; Ravi Vira Gupta, former deputy governor, Reserve Bank of India; Vibha Puri Das, former secretary, ministry of tribal affairs, GoI; FTR Colaso, former director general of police, Govt of Karnataka & former director general of police, Govt of Jammu & Kashmir; Rana Banerji, former special secretary, cabinet secretariat, GoI; HS Gujral, former principal chief conservator of forests, Govt of Punjab and Aftab Seth, former ambassador to Japan.

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.

June 4, 2024 will be the final chapter of the eighteenth general elections to the parliament of the world’s most populous country; the largest democratic contest that the world has ever witnessed. During this massive exercise, more than anyone else, it is India’s working poor, its farmers, its women and its youth who have affirmed their abiding faith in India’s democracy by queuing up in large numbers even in the searing heat of summer.

 Elections are a particularly testing time for institutions that are constitutionally vested with the responsibility of ensuring the integrity and fairness of elections. These include the higher judiciary, the Election Commission, chief electoral officers in every state and returning officers in every district.

To retain the faith of the ordinary citizen in these constitutional institutions vested with the onerous responsibility of the free and fair conduct of elections, it is necessary that these institutions not only be fair but also appear to be fair. They must reassure the citizens of the fairness and integrity of the process through their consistently transparent and accountable functioning, and by continuously sharing information with the electorate.

During the 2024 general elections, concerns have been raised at many points about the fairness of the elections. These relate to fears that the EVM and VVPAT machines can be tampered with, instances of single persons unlawfully voting on behalf of many voters (some videos of this are in circulation), of many people, especially of vulnerable groups, finding their names missing from the voters’ lists, of the inexplicable refusal of the Election Commission of India to disclose the exact numbers of votes cast in each constituency, and of little visible action against hate speech targeting both minorities and the opposition parties by senior leaders of the ruling party. It would have been fitting for the Election Commission to publicly explain actions taken, and not taken by the commission to address these problems and allay the fears of the electorate. They should still do this without further delay and in a transparent manner.

It pains us to say that no Election Commission in the past has been as reluctant as the present one to discharge its duties, despite violations being repeatedly brought to its attention by responsible organisations and respected members of society. We hope they will not continue to show this disregard in the time that is remaining.

In the run-up to the counting, immense care needs to be taken for the safe custody of the EVM machines in ways that involve all the competing candidates and parties. Returning officers need to commit themselves to announcing the results of the counting of votes in every case without any delay.

In the event of a hung parliament, onerous responsibilities will be placed upon the shoulders of the president of India. We are sure that she will follow the established democratic precedent of first inviting the pre-poll alliance that garnered the largest numbers of seats. Also, that she would endeavour to preempt the possibilities of horse-trading.

On behalf of the citizens of India, we seek in humility to remind each of the authorities and institutions charged with the integrity of the process of democratic government formation of their paramount duty to abide and uphold the Constitution of India. We would like to remind them of the oath they have taken in this regard at the time of their assumption of office.

We bring forth the luminous pledge that India’s first citizen, the president of India, takes to “ preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law ” and to devote herself “ to the service and the well-being of the people of India ”.  We are sure that this will be her guiding light.