What should be the responsibility of an outgoing government when the Lok Sabha elections are announced? Is the outgoing government correct in undertaking appointments in different departments and ministries? If these appointments are not done, will the government stop functioning? What is the role of the Election Commission (EC) in clearing appointment files, especially those pertaining to the appointment of the Army chief? Has the EC the wherewithal to do this job? It is not just an issue of appointments; the officials being appointed in such haste too come under a shadow.
The minute elections are announced, the role of the outgoing government practically reduces to a minimum. It is only in the case of financial emergencies or national security that the outgoing government should take decisions without delay. Otherwise, when a general election is being held and the electorate is voting, then, ethically, the government does not have the right to appoint officers of its preference. It means pre-empting the right of the new elected government.
In this regard, it is necessary to debate how the Election Commission takes over the role of governance in the country. The EC’s primary role, under the Representation of People’s Act, is to hold free and fair elections. The criteria for the EC should be to see whether such appointments have an influence on the elections, or whether they are an obstacle to holding free and fair elections. But, tacitly, the EC has acquired new territory—if one becomes king even for a day, then why not enjoy the powers that come with it. None of the appointments by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA II government in the midst of the 2014 elections jeopardise the holding of a free and fair election. Then why did the EC act more loyal than the king—just because nobody can question it till the elections are over. The EC is forgetting that it’s a part of the system which governs the country and that it too is answerable to the people of India for its acts and omissions. The people of India expect it to be non-partisan and unbiased. What will happen if the role of the EC comes under suspicion? That is the peril the outgoing government has to guard against. The strength of Indian democracy should not be allowed to dissipate.
The cover story written by ace contributor MG Devasahayam and Associate Editor Neeraj Mahajan, highlights the appointments made in haste by the outgoing UPA government. Devasahayam explains how the government appears to be biased in appointing the new Chief of Army Staff. He writes, “In the case of Lt General Dalbir Singh Suhag, the ‘chosen one’, there is lurking suspicion that the obnoxious feudal practice of ‘Line of Succession’ is being pushed to the extreme. Under this practice, a favourite of powerful business lobbies/vested interests is selected well ahead and groomed for top appointments by manipulating the ‘seniority’ and timing the promotion of the ‘chosen one’.” I must share with our readers that the gfiles’ story on Siachen (Siachen Handout: Bartering India’s Security?) in our August 2012 issue stands vindicated. We had said then that the Manmohan Singh government planned to withdraw from Siachen but the Army resisted. Veteran Journalist GS Chawla has exposed the gameplan of Manmohan Singh in his story in this issue. He writes, “The Prime Minister, under American pressure for backdoor talks with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, had agreed to withdraw Indian forces from Siachen, giving a major concession to Pakistan.” We hope that the new government will not capitulate to the wishes of the Americans and agree to withdraw from Siachen.