Sheila appointment as Governor
EC privy to violation of Code of Conduct
The Election Commission (EC) of India is a constitutional institution and Article 324 of the Constitution vests in it the power of "Superintendence, direction and control of elections in India, which include election of the President, Vice-President, the two houses of Parliament (Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) and the legislative assemblies (and of legislative councils where they exist) in States. It is the duty of the EC to ensure a free, fair, impartial and peaceful election in the country.
For achieving this objective, the EC has framed a Model Code of Conduct (MCoC) for Political Parties to ensure that every candidate and political party, including that in government, fights the election from the same pedestal with no individual or group enjoying a position of advantage or disadvantage.
Therefore, it is the usual practice that the time the EC announces the schedule of elections to Parliament, State assemblies, by-elections to vacant seats in Parliament or State assemblies, the MCoC comes into force from that very moment. Consequently, government is prohibited from making any policy statements, promising new schemes and projects, and other activities which are likely to influence the mind of the voters. During this period the governments are barred from making any fresh recruitment/appointments, from issuing appointment letters to individuals even when the Union or State Public Service Commissions have made their selections and sent their recommendations for issue of appointment letters to such persons. Appointments/promotions finalized, orders issued but not yet implemented get held in abeyance till the election process as decided by the EC is completed.
Even routine matters like issue of ration cards, driving licences, arms licences, telephone, water and power connections comes to a standstill even if perfectly under the laws and the rules.
On March 4, 2005 invitations were issued to the media for a special Press Conference to be addressed by the full Election Commission for announcing the election schedule for Parliament (Lok Sabha) and three legislative assemblies of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim, besides by-elections to vacant seats in different State assemblies. The electronic channels started highlighting the fact that the EC is going to announce the election schedule next day. To browbeat the enforcement of MCoC the next day, the Manmohan Singh government on March 4 evening approved the appointment of Mrs. Sheila Dikshit, a former Delhi Chief Minister defeated in recent assembly elections, as the Governor of Kerala.
Fingers can be raised on the ethics and morality of making such an important appointment having political repercussions on the eve of elections when Kerala is going to polls for Parliament and when a day after this government was to cease power to take such decisions. In a similar situation if a State government made transfers of its district magistrates, deputy commissioners, superintendents of police, etc. hackles would have been raised by various political parties. Even EC would have sought explanation from the concerned State to justify these transfers. But, surprisingly, EC preferred to take this vital decision as a matter of no consequence.
All government appointments even when made on the strength of merit — and not as a measure of favour on political considerations — based on a competitive examination by Union of State Public Service Commissions are held in abeyance when the MCoC gets in position. On the same analogy the appointment of Mrs. Sheila Dikshit too should have been kept on hold and she should not have been allowed to take oath on March 11, six days after the MCoC having come into force.
There is nothing in the media to show that the Government of India sought the permission of the EC to let Mrs. Dikshit take over in view of the MCoC and the same was granted. Some may take the plea that the Dikshit appointment has been made by the President. It should be kept in mind that all appointments and transfers in the Government of India are made in the name of the President. There is nothing exceptional in the appointment of Mrs. Dikshit except that it is political in nature. Can politics be allowed to have a free play during the time of elections?
At noon on March 10, this writer faxed a request to the Chief Election Commissioner to intervene and withhold the swearing-in of Mrs. Sheila Dikshit as Governor Kerala. Manmohan Singh Government and Mrs. Dikshit are thus both guilty of violating the Model Code of Conduct. The EC suo motto had been taking cognizance of such blatant violations. But in this case it shut its eyes to the reality. Does it not amount to double standards? ***