I would like to draw your attention to a matter that concerns free and fair elections and a level playing field for all political parties.
I notice that over the last 18 years, there has been a planned and sustained effort by the Congress Party to name all major government programmes, projects and institutions in the country after three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family viz Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
On a rough estimate about 450 Central and State Government programmes, projects and national and state level institutions involving public expenditure of hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees have been named after these three individuals. While it is the prerogative of a government to name an institution after a person whom it considers to be a national or state leader, government programmes which have been initiated to ameliorate the lives of millions of citizens ( like drinking water, housing, old age pensions, employment guarantee etc) fall into an entirely different category.
If the nomenclature of these programmes is not politically neutral, the sanctity of the democratic system would be in jeopardy and it would not be possible to ensure a level playing field for all political parties.
For example, among programmes of the Union Government, the Congress Party has named the rural electrification programme, which involves an outgo of Rs 28,000 crore during the Eleventh Plan period ( Allocation of Rs 5500 Crore during fiscal 2008-09) after Rajiv Gandhi. It is known as the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana. The drinking water mission, for which the Union Government has allocated Rs 21,000 crore over three years (budgetary allocation of Rs 6400 crore during FY 2007-08, Rs 7300 crore in FY 2008-09 and Rs 7400 crore in FY 2009-10) is also named after him and is called the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Mission.
There are also some big ticket programmes named after Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. For example, the housing programme is named after Indira Gandhi. This is called Indira Awas Yojana. The budgetary allocation for this programme was Rs 7919.00 crore in FY 2008-09 and Rs 7914.70 crore in FY 2009-10. Rural households below the poverty line constitute the target group for this scheme. Also named after her is the old age pension scheme called the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme. The budgetary provision for this scheme for FY 2008-09 was Rs 3443 crore. This programme is meant to provide social security to workers in the unorganized sector. Central government programmes involving huge outlay of public funds which have been named after Jawaharlal Nehru over the last two decades are the Jahawarlal Nehru Rojgar Yojana and the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. The Rojgar Yojana, which later metamorphosed into Jawaharlal Gram Samruddi Yojana and the Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana was meant to provide employment to millions of unemployed citizens. The Union Government proposes to spend Rs 50,000 crore over a seven-year time frame on the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission. The budgetary allocation for this programme was Rs 10447.98 crore in 2008-09. In FY 2009-10, the allocation is Rs 10713.84 crore.
There are several other programmes named after Rajiv Gandhi. These include:
The Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers (budgetary allocation of Rs 91.88 crore in FY 2008-09 and Rs 91.52 crore in 2009-10) and the programme to promote micro, small and medium enterprises called the Rajiv Gandhi Udyami Mitra Yojana with a budgetary allocation of Rs 2.70 crore ( FY 2008-09) and Rs 1.12 crore ( FY 2009-10). But, this is not the end of the list. We also have the Rajiv Gandhi Shramik Kalyan Yojana, an insurance scheme for workers and the Rajiv Gandhi Shilpi Swasthya Bima Yojana.
State Governments too have been vying with each other to name programmes and schemes after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi Family. These include the Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme, Pondicherry; Rajiv Ratna Awas Yojana for the poor in Delhi State; Rajiv Arogyasri Health Insurance scheme for BPL families in Andhra Pradesh; Rajiv Gandhi Computer Literacy Mission in Assam; Rajiv Gandhi Bridges and Roads Infrastructure Development Programme, Haryana; Rajiv Gandhi Vidyarthi Suraksha Yojana,Maharastra; Rajiv Gandhi Tourism Development Mission, Rajasthan; Indira Kranthi Patham Scheme and Indira Jeevitha Bima Pathakam, Andhra Pradesh; Indira Gandhi Niradhar Yojana, Maharastra; Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Vivah Shagun Yojana, Haryana; Indira Gandhi Calf-Rearing Scheme, Andhra Pradesh; and the Indira Gandhi Landless Agriculture Labour Scheme, Maharastra to name a few of the 52 programmes launched in the states.
A perusal of these programmes and schemes shows a systematic attempt by the Congress Party to name every government programme concerning every citizen – man ,woman, child; every possible circumstance in the life of every citizen – child bearing, child rearing, education of children, food, education of youth, employment, marriage, unemployment, destitution, handicap; and every possible challenge flowing out of lack of infrastructure – drinking water, electricity and housing after just three members of this political family who are icons of the Congress Party.
In fact, I have found that the list of 450 government programmes, schemes, institutions etc named after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family broadly fall into the following categories: Central government programmes and projects (12), State Government Programmes ( 52), Universities and Educational Institutions (100), Ports and Airports (6), Awards, Scholarships and Fellowships (66), Sports Tournaments, Trophies and Stadia ( 47), National Parks and Sanctuaries (15), Hospitals and Medical Institutions (39), National Scientific and Research Institutions, Chairs and festivals (37), Roads, Buildings and Places (74). The entire list is provided in Annexure I.
Such is the obsession of the Congress Party with these three members of a single family in this country that even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi has been virtually forgotten. The Congress Party’s contempt for Mahatma Gandhi is best explained by the fact that just one central scheme – the Mahatma Gandhi Backward Region Development Fund- has been named after him. This too was done as an after thought only in 2007, almost 60 years after the Mahatma’s assassination. On the other hand, the rural electrification programme, the drinking water mission, the national crèche scheme for children and the programme to promote micro and small industries in rural areas (something that was close to the heart of the Mahatma) are all named after Rajiv Gandhi. The massive central programme to build houses for the rural poor (again something that would have made the Mahatma proud) is named after Indira Gandhi, as also the national old age pension scheme. Yet another programme which ought to have been named after the Mahatma – the greatest Indian of the 20 th Century- is the Rozgar Yojana which guarantees 100 days of work for the rural unemployed all over the country. Even this programme was initially named after Jawaharlal Nehru as also the Urban Renewal Mission (annual budgetary allocation of over Rs 10,000 Crores).
Equally glaring is the omission of many other eminent Indians including Sardar Vallabhai Patel, India’s first Deputy Prime Minister who undertook the arduous task of integrating 563 princely states into a single nation and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, who presided over the committee that drafted our Constitution and embedded basic values of democracy and social justice. No central programmes have been named after them. Such is the Congress Party’s determination to name every scheme after its own leaders that even the National Fellowship Scheme for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students is named after Rajiv Gandhi and not Dr.Ambedkar, the man who waged a relentless battle to better the lot of the Dalits in India. There are hundreds of other leaders belonging to various political shades who have made an invaluable contribution to the building of India, but not a single central government programme is named after any of them.
A similar tendency is seen in all states where the Congress Party has been in power. These states have been vying with each other in naming government programmes and schemes after these three members of the Nehru-Gandhi family. While there are many examples of this kind, the most glaring example, which raises a question is regard to free and fair election is the blatant advertisement of the Congress Party on the Ambulances that provide emergency medical help all over Andhra Pradesh. These ambulances, which reach every village in the state in quick time, provide efficient integrated emergency services that cover medical emergencies, police and fire. The capital expenditure on each ambulance is Rs 10 lakh to Rs 16 lakhs and the running cost per ambulance is Rs 1.25 lakh per month. All this expenditure is borne out of public funds drawn from the Union and State accounts. Yet, it is made out as if these ambulances are a gift from the Congress Party to the people of the State because every ambulance carries a portrait of Rajiv Gandhi on both sides of the vehicle with the legend “Rajiv Arogyasri”.
(Please See Annexure II)
While it is true that Andhra Pradesh was the first to launch the emergency ambulance programme, it is not the only state which is fully covered by this programme. Gujarat has implemented this last year and has ensured full coverage of all the 18080 villages in the state. But Gujarat does not advertise these ambulances as some kind of largesse from the ruling party. They do not carry any portrait of any icon of any political party.
By displaying the portrait of Rajiv Gandhi on every ambulance (it has 650 ambulances and proposes to add 150 more to this fleet) which reaches every village, the ruling
Congress Party in the state is drawing undue electoral advantage out of a programme launched with public funds. A public programme is being made to look like a programme of a political party or a private donor. I would request the Election Commission to immediately examine this issue and issue a direction to the Andhra Pradesh Government to immediately remove the portrait of Rajiv Gandhi from the ambulances and also to give the health insurance scheme (Arogyasri) a politically neutral name.
While it can be argued that a government has a right to name an airport or an institution or building after someone it considers a national icon, it cannot certainly be anybody’s case that government programmes involving public spending of thousands of crores of rupees on a recurring basis can be named after members of a single political family associated with a single political party so that this particular party would gain electoral advantage on a continuous basis.
Many years ago, when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in power at the Centre, it launched a special programme to fund rural roads and called it the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. This nomenclature, as is obvious, is politically neutral. I also find that several schemes launched by the present government in Madhya Pradesh are also given politically neutral names and called Mukhya Mantri Yojanas. I would urge the Election Commission to commend this approach to all governments in the larger interests of democracy and political plurality and put every player in the democratic playfield on an equal footing. This is the model that needs to be promoted both at the Centre and in the States if we are to ensure political plurality and fair and objective conditions for all political players.
I would therefore request you to immediately issue directions to the Union Government and to all the governments in the states and direct them to remove the names of individuals, who are seen by the people as icons of specific political parties, from all government programmes and schemes funded by the exchequer and to immediately give these programmes politically neutral names. Such a direction from the Election Commission will ensure enforcement of the Model Code of Conduct in letter and spirit as also the various directions and instructions issued by the Commission from time to time.
In this connection I would like to draw your attention to Part VII of the Model Code of Conduct drafted by the Election Commission for the guidance of political parties and particularly for political parties which are in government. It says:
“VII. Party in Power
The party in power whether at the Centre or in the State or
States concerned, shall ensure that no cause is given for any complaint
that it has used its official position for the purposes of its election
campaign and in particular –
(i) (a) The Ministers shall not combine their official visit
with electioneering work and shall not also make
use of official machinery or personnel during the
(b) Government transport including official air-crafts,
vehicles, machinery and personnel shall not be used
for furtherance of the interest of the party in power;”
The Model Code of Conduct further says the party in power should not “monopolise” public places and maidans and helipads, rest houses and dak bungalows or issue advertisements at the cost of the public exchequer or misuse official mass media for partisan coverage “regarding achievements” of the ruling party. It also prohibits ministers from making “grants/payments” after elections are announced; announce financial grants in any form, lay foundation stones or make promises in regard to construction of roads, provision of drinking water etc “ which may have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the party in power”.
In other words, the Code of Conduct prohibits a party in power from using its “official position” for its election campaign. Also, it prohibits ministers from using official machinery and personnel, vehicles and state aircraft to further “the interest of the party in power”. Ministers are not to misuse the mass media for partisan coverage or to do anything which is tantamount to “influencing the voters in favour of the party in power”. Since the Commission lays down a general injunction against misusing “official position”, how can it possibly allow a ruling party to name every other government scheme after one of its icons, thus placing all other political parties at a terrible disadvantage? Is this not the most glaring misuse of official position?
Further, when the Model Code of Conduct prohibits even minor misdemeanors like misuse of government vehicles and personnel by the ruling party in an election campaign, how can it possibly allow a ruling party to hijack almost every government scheme and name schemes worth over Rs One Lakh Crores after just three members of a single family who are icons of that party?
I am indeed surprised that this matter has not caught the attention of the Election Commission, which has always displayed such alacrity in disciplining political parties and rapping party bosses on the knuckles for even the slightest deviation in the Code of Conduct. I regard the naming of dozens of government programmes and schemes after just three members of a single political family as a sustained and colossal misuse of the government machinery and government funds by the Congress Party for political and electoral purposes. Given the commission’s rigid and inflexible approach to even minor violations by other parties, I would urge the commission to take immediate steps to
correct the imbalance that the Congress Party has brought about through this Machiavellian device of naming all schemes and programmes after members of the Nehru-Gandhi Family.
In fact, the commission has specifically stressed the importance of “a level playing field” among all political parties during elections. For example, the commission took note of the announcement made by Mr.Arjun Singh on April 5, 2006, which was put out by the electronic media that day and repeated in both the electronic and print media thereafter to the effect that 27% quota for other backward classes (OBCs) in Central Government funded educational institutions, like, IIMs, IITs and Central Universities, shall be reserved from the coming academic year 2006-2007. On the basis of these reports in the electronic and print media, the Commission was of the view that this announcement by Mr. Singh was prima facie in violation of the Model Code of Conduct which was in force from March 1, 2006 in the context of the general elections to the Legislative Assemblies of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Pondicherry.
After investigating the matter, the commission said on May 10, 2006 that its notice to the Central Government and Mr.Singh had served its intended purpose of putting restraint on statements by Ministers, both of the Centre as well as of the States, and by the Governments, “which could otherwise have had a further vitiating effect on the conduct of free and fair elections and disturbing the level playing field among the political parties in the election arena” (emphasis mine). This order of the commission, signed by its Secretary Mr.A.K.Mazumdar, rightly focuses on the importance of a level playing field in elections.
In Mr.Arjun Singh’s Case, the commission even said “ In the upholding of the Model Code of Conduct the party and persons in power have, for obvious reasons, a higher responsibility and they are expected not only to uphold it but should also be perceived to be so doing”. In other words, the commission expects political parties in power to conduct themselves in such a manner that the public at large “perceives” them to be upholding the Model Code of Conduct. If every other government scheme or project is named only after icons of the Congress Party, how can the public “perceive” the ruling party to be upholding the Code?
Earlier, on May 1, 2004, in a case pertaining to defacement of public property and putting up of election posters and banners in violation of orders of the ECI in Pondicherry, the commission had issued a notice to the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) asking it to show cause why its recognition as a political party should not be withdrawn. In this case the commission cited Section 16 A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968 which gives the commission the power to suspend or withdraw recognition of a recognised political party for its failure to observe the Model Code of Conduct or follow lawful directions and instructions of the Commission.
In yet another case, the commissioned examined the complaint that the Union Ministry of Tourism had distributed publicity material to promote the election prospects of the Smt.Poonam Azad, candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2-Gole Market Assembly Constituency in New Delhi in November, 2003. This material was distributed along with an appeal made by Shri Jagmohan, Union Minister for Tourism and an election pamphlet issued in the name of Shri Kirti Azad, MP, urging the electors of this constituency to elect Smt. Azad, the BJP candidate.
The Election Commission, after an inquiry said that it was “convinced” that the party (BJP) “misused the said government publicity materials, to promote the election prospects of Smt Poonam Azad, its candidate at the election from the said assembly constituency, and thereby violated Para VII of the Model Code of Conduct for the Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates which was in force w.e.f. 6th October, 2003”. The commission went on to express its “displeasure” on the conduct of the BJP and the Union Minister of Tourism, Shri Jagmohan.
Equally relevant is the commission’s instructions dated November, 21, 2007 in which it directed all governments to strictly ensure that all references to politicians and ministers on the official website of the government should be deleted during the period of General Elections to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies.
In these instructions, which were sent out to the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories and all Chief Electoral Officers of all States and Union Territories, the commission said that it had considered the question of various references currently available in the State Government websites/Ministerial official websites pertaining to several departments and government organizations “highlighting their achievements but eulogizing the same as personal achievements of Politicians / Ministers”. The Commission has decided that during the period when model code of conduct is in force in connection with general election to the Lok Sabha /State Legislative Assemblies, “all references to Ministers, Politicians or Political Parties available on such State Government /Central Government`s official websites, shall be taken off. During bye-elections, these instructions may be confined to only those Politicians/Ministers, etc. who themselves become candidates at such bye- elections”. The commission said it wanted “strict compliance” of this directive by all concerned.
It is clear from the instructions issued by the commission to all governments on November 21, 2007 that it does not want individuals associated with a party to eulogise government achievements “as personal achievements” of ministers and politicians.
If that is so, how can thousands of Crores of public money spent on government schemes and programmes be palmed off as gifts from a single party or worse, a single family to the people?
This blatant attempt to package and market government programmes run on public money as munificent offerings from a family to the people and consequently to draw political and electoral advantage for a political party, run by that family, must, in the larger interests of our democracy and political plurality, in my view, be put an end to.
I would request the commission to issue a direction to the Governmment of India and all governments in the states to ensure that the nomenclature of all government schemes and programmes is politically neutral and to delete the names of members of a Nehru-Gandhi Family from these schemes immediately because of the unfair advantage that this offers to the Congress Party in the ensuing Lok Sabha Election and in the elections that are to be held to elect some state assemblies.
Since the schedule for the Lok Sabha election has already been announced, I would request the Election Commission to seek compliance of this direction immediately. If the Union Government or any of the state governments fail to comply with this direction, it can always exercise its power to withdraw recognition to the Congress Party as outlined in Paragraph 16A of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment)
Order, 1968, which provides as follows:-
“16A. Power of Commission to suspend or withdraw recognition of a
recognised political party for its failure to observe Model Code of
Conduct or follow lawful directions and instructions of the Commission –
Notwithstanding anything in this Order, if the Commission is satisfied on
information in its possession that a political party, recognised either as a
National party or as a State party under the provisions of this Order, has failed
or has refused or is refusing or has shown or is showing defiance by its
conduct or otherwise (a) to observe the provisions of the ‘Model Code of
Conduct for Guidance of Political Parties and Candidates’ as issued by the
Commission in January, 1991 or as amended by it from time to time, or (b) to
follow or carry out the lawful directions and instructions of the Commission
given from time to time with a view to furthering the conduct of free, fair and
peaceful elections or safeguarding the interests of the general public and the
electorate in particular, the Commission may, after taking into account all the
available facts and circumstances of the case and after giving the party
reasonable opportunity of showing cause in relation to the action proposed to
be taken against it, either suspend, subject to such terms as the Commission
may deem appropriate, or withdraw the recognition of such party as the
National Party or, as the case may be, the State Party”.
I look forward to immediate action by the Election Commission of India to ensure a level playing field for all political parties during the general election to the Lok Sabha. As the Election Commission said in its order of May 10, 2006 in Shri Arjun Singh’s Case, it does not want the party in power to do anything that “vitiates” free and fair elections and “disturbs” the level playing field among political parties. I would urge the commission to apply these very principles in the present case and issue instructions to the Union Government and all the State Governments to change the nomenclature of all government programmes and schemes which have the effect of influencing the voters in favour of the Congress Party and thus giving this party an unfair advantage over other political parties.
With Warm Regards,