Letter to Chief Election Commissioner – Release of biopics when the Model Code of Conduct is in place

26 March 2019

To

Shri Sunil Arora,

Chief Election Commissioner,

Election Commission of India,

New Delhi

Copied to:

  1. Shri Ashok Lavasa, Election Commissioner
  2. Shri Sushil Chandra, Election Commissioner

Dear Shri Arora,

Our group of former civil servants of the All India and Central Services have interacted with the Election Commission from time to time on issues of public interest.  We are now writing to you to draw your attention to a potential threat to the correct applicability of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC).

There are media reports that a biopic on our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, is being readied for release. The release was set for 12 April 2019, then, unexpectedly, it was brought forward to 5 April 2019. You will appreciate that such a film would create enormous electoral mileage for the Prime Minister and the party in power. It is, therefore, necessary to examine whether the release of this biopic after the announcement of elections and the coming into force of the MCC is consonant with the principles of a free and fair election. The same principle would apply to any similar biopic on any other candidate in the forthcoming elections, since news reports mention a biopic on the president of the Indian National Congress, Shri Rahul Gandhi (though there is no mention of the date of release).

We deeply appreciate your efforts to get social media platforms to adopt a code of conduct for their activities and responsibilities during the election process. In our view, the same principles apply to the process of film certification and release during an ongoing election process. It is specially required, under the MCC, that “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.” It cannot be said that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has no role in this, given that the Central Board of Film Certification falls under its jurisdiction.

When even appointments to the Boards of Public Sector Undertakings are not permitted under the MCC, open advocacy of the role of the Prime Minister (or of any other candidate) in   biopics or documentaries focused on them amount, in our view, to propaganda in favour of   individuals belonging to particular political parties at a time when the MCC is in force. When expenditures on behalf of a candidate even without his/her formal permission are deemed to be counted as part of the expenses incurred by the candidate, a view also needs to be taken whether the expenditures on the production of such biopics or documentaries and their distribution/publicity should be added to the expenses incurred by the candidate directly.

We are of the view that there is no urgency for the release of such biopics or documentaries at this juncture, except to garner publicity for political personages and the political parties they represent. We, therefore, request the ECI to issue directions to withhold their release in cinema theatres or as home videos or on the Web (via YouTube, Netflix, Hotstar or similar channels) or via social media (Facebook, Twitter or any other) till the date when the MCC ceases to operate, i.e., on a date after 23 May 2019.

In a catena of judgments both before and after Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India” (2001), the Supreme Court has ruled that Article 324 of the Constitution of India operates in areas “left unoccupied by legislation” and the expressions “superintendence, direction and control” as well as “conduct of all elections” in Article 324 are the “broadest of terms”. Therefore, “the Commission can cope with a situation where the field is unoccupied by issuing necessary orders”. In other words, the ECI’s power under Article 324 is to be construed liberally and given its widest possible meaning.

Thus, the ECI is fully competent to tackle the situation where biopics or documentaries on candidates are released during the middle of the election process by suitably amending the MCC or issuing such other directions as are deemed appropriate. We are confident that the ECI will uphold the highest constitutional principles in this regard.

With all good wishes for the successful conduct of the forthcoming elections.

Yours sincerely,

 

1. Salahuddin Ahmad IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
2. S.P. Ambrose IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Shipping & Transport, GoI
3. V.S. Ailawadi IAS (Retd.) Former Vice Chairman, Delhi Development Authority
4. Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
5. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
6. Madhu Bhaduri IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Portugal
7. Meeran C Borwankar IPS (Retd.) Former DGP, Bureau of Police Research and Development, GoI
8. Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
9. Anna Dani IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
10. P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
11. Keshav Desiraju IAS (Retd.) Former Health Secretary, GoI
12. M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
13. Sushil Dubey IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Sweden
14. K.P. Fabian IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
15. Arif Ghauri IRS (Retd.) Former Governance Adviser, DFID, Govt. of the United Kingdom (on deputation)
16. Gourisankar Ghosh IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
17. S.K. Guha IAS (Retd.) Former Joint Secretary, Department of Women & Child Development, GoI
18. Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
19. Sajjad Hassan IAS (Retd.) Former Commissioner (Planning), Govt. of Manipur
20. Rahul Khullar IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
21. Arun Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, GoI
22. Brijesh Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
23. Sudhir Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Central Administrative Tribunal
24. P.K. Lahiri IAS (Retd.) Former Executive Director, Asian Development Bank
25. Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
26. Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
27. Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
28. Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
29. Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
30. Pranab S. Mukhopadhyay IAS (Retd.) Former Director, Institute of Port Management, GoI
31. P.G.J. Nampoothiri IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
32. Surendra Nath IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Finance Commission, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
33. Amitabha Pande IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Inter-State Council, GoI
34. N.K. Raghupathy IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Staff Selection Commission, GoI
35. V.P. Raja IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission
36. C. Babu Rajeev IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI
37. Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
38. S. Satyabhama IAS (Retd.) Former Chairperson, National Seeds Corporation, GoI
39. Ardhendu Sen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
40. Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
41. Aftab Seth IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
42. Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
43. K. Ashok Vardhan Shetty IAS (Retd.) Former Vice Chancellor, Indian Maritime University, GoI
44. Parveen Talha IRS (Retd.) Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
45. P.S.S. Thomas IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary General, National Human Rights Commission
46. Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir
47. Ramani Venkatesan IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, YASHADA, Govt. of Maharashtra

3 thoughts on “Letter to Chief Election Commissioner – Release of biopics when the Model Code of Conduct is in place

  1. Pingback: Narenda Modi biopic slammed as propaganda by opposition ahead of Indian election

  2. Pingback: Modi biopic slammed as propaganda

  3. Pingback: Narendra Modi biopic slammed as propaganda by opposition ahead of Indian election | One World Media News

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