The Modi government’s plan to deploy officials for “showcasing/celebration of achievements of the last nine years of Government of India through Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra” is a serious violation of the principle of separation between political government and official machinery in constitutional governance. A government directive has sought to nominate officials as “rath prabharis” who will explain the government’s schemes and projects to the people in a programme to be launched on November 20 and to last till January 25. In a similar order, the Ministry of Defence has directed soldiers on annual leave to promote government schemes as “soldier ambassadors.” There is no provision in the civil service rules for officials to work as “prabharis,” which is a word borrowed from the BJP’s political lexicon. Defence service personnel are also not expected to act or be seen to be acting in support of any government.
Just as there is separation of powers between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature in the constitutional scheme, there is a clear line of separation between governments that come and go in a democracy, and the bureaucracy, which is permanent. The bureaucracy has the duty to implement the policies and programmes of a government but should not be seen as supportive of or aligned toany particular government. Another government has the right to change the policies and programmes of one government and so officials should not be seen as one government’s propagandists. The programme envisaged by the Modi government is clearly a political programme intended to publicise its claimed achievements a few weeks before the 2024 general elections. This amounts to using government machinery for election purposes. The Election Commission has now told the government that it cannot send any “prabharis” to the five poll-bound states until December 5. It is a limited but welcome intervention to prevent the government’s attempt to brazenly violate the Model Code of Conduct. Directing soldiers on leave to be “soldier ambassadors” is worse. Soldiers on leave would want to spend their time with their families or for other personal work. It is wrong to make them do political propaganda for the government. It is a dangerous trend, too. Defence forces do not owe allegiance to the government but to the State and the Constitution. It is dangerous to get them involved in the politics and policies of governments. This happens in countries like China where the bureaucracy and the armed forces are extensions of the Communist Party of China.
The government’s plan amounts to politicisation of the bureaucracy and the defence forces, which has serious consequences for politics and governance in the country. The government should drop the programme. The bureaucracy and the armed forces are neutral, they should not be made partisan.
(Published 26 October 2023, 19:27 IST)