To write or not to write ...
by P M Ravindran on 30 Jul 2020 4 Comments

Prudence dictates it is better to let sleeping dogs lie. But wisdom demands that the unpalatable and unpleasant, at least those in public domain, be discussed publicly and thrashed out in public interest.


On July 4, 2020, The Hindustan Times carried a report under the heading ‘NSA Doval coordinated PM Modi’s surprise Nimu visit’. I was too shocked at the preposterousness of the suggestion implicit in the title and posted a comment thus:


I really don’t understand what is there for NSA Doval to co-ordinate about the PM’s visit to a military station. From the general reports appearing in the media involving Doval, it looks like there is more to it than meets the eye. Is there any effort to paint a larger than life size picture of Doval? Or, is it to reduce the PM to a puppet in the hands of Doval? Even worse, is it just to paint the armed forces as puppets of the same public servant? Otherwise, all that Doval had to do in this case was just inform the CDS that the PM would be visiting Leh on such and such date at such and such time. And the Services would have taken it on from there and done the job much, much better than Doval can even dream of.


Earlier in the film ‘Uri, the Surgical Strike’, too, Doval is shown to be the brain behind the successful military operation.


And now, the usually unreliable Malayalam visual and print media is also seen going gaga over Doval, the Indian James Bond, leading the investigations in the gold-smuggling-through- diplomatic bag case. With the investigations leading to terror funding, and maybe their mouthpieces too, one can imagine the motivation for such blurbs.


I have nothing to do with Ajit Doval, but where was he before he became National Security Advisor under Prime Minister Narendra Modi? He had been a member of the Indian Police Service and retired with no obvious fanfare. Did he leave any lasting impression in the performance of the police as a service organization as Kiran Bedi did, with her reforms in Tihar Jail?  


Doval draws comparison with T.N. Seshan, a member of the Indian Administrative Service who became Cabinet Secretary without much ado. But once he was appointed as Chief Election Commissioner, he tried to cleanse the election system. Notable among those efforts was the introduction of Identity Cards for voters. Unfortunately, the then Bihar Chief Minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav, openly said he would not implement it in his State. But what has happened thereafter? Even today this identity card is not the only identification document required to cast vote. And, in the last elections to the Kerala Legislative Assembly, there were complaints of impersonation. But that is not all.


Driven by apex court orders, the candidates are also submitting information about their criminal records while filing their nomination papers. But does that information reach the electorate in time? An NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, has been trying to compile this information of candidates, at least of important constituencies, and publishing them for the information of the voters. But while this effort is tremendous, it is less than the proverbial drop in the ocean for what needs to be done and could be achieved.


I remember my own case of getting my Voter’s Identity Card just 10 days before the elections in 1999 and finding my name missing from the electoral roll when I landed up at the polling booth. Complaints to the concerned authorities had remained unanswered. Interestingly, some similarly placed citizens had approached the High Court; but the court had dismissed the petition with the observation that even if they had voted it would not have made any difference to the result. The court had obviously forgotten that it was not the result of the election that was being challenged but the denial of the fundamental right of citizens to choose, through ballots, their representatives in law-making bodies.


There are laid down procedures to remove names from an electoral roll. And the public servants who had violated them were also not made accountable for their sins of omissions and commissions.


Much later, I read a report of a court observing that those who had not voted had no right to complain against the government.


Now, here is the situation after the implementation of the Right to Information Act.


Post the 2014 general election, I had sought some information related to the activities of the Anti-Defacement Squads constituted by the District Election Officer (DEO), their constitution, deployment, tasks, cost etc. Among the information obtained was the cost of defacement required to be recovered from the candidates/political parties. This was as under:


UDF: Rs 1,10,100/-

LDF: 1,18,000/-

BJP: 42,100/-;

Welfare Party: 1650/-

SDPI: 2670/-

BSP: 1142/-

AAP: 1050/-

Virendra Kumar: 2100/-

Total: Rs 2,78,812/-


Post the 2019 general election too I sought similar information plus the following information in the context of the earlier dues:

(a)  The date(s) when the payment(s) were made and copies of the proofs of payment.

(b) Of the cases filed, the number of cases disposed of and the punishments awarded.


Suffice to say that no information was provided and the 2nd appeal is pending with the Kerala State Information Commission (KSIC) since September 26, 2019.


Thanks to this fraud perpetrated in perpetuity, this issue of defacing public spaces continues unabated. If defacing public spaces is explicitly banned, it is presumed that private spaces will not be misused by candidates/political parties during elections. In the matter of private spaces, it is explicitly mandated that the permission of the owner must be taken. But in practice any property which appears not occupied is used with impunity.


Thus, during the last general election of 2019, I found the walls of my adjacent plot plastered with the posters of a candidate. I immediately complained to all authorities from the CEC ( down to the DEO ( and the State Chief Electoral Officer The ECI merely acknowledged receipt of the complaint and informed that it had been forwarded to ‘concerned’ authorities. A query regarding the identity of this authority/authorities returned the same useless acknowledgement.


An application under the RTI Act, seeking copy of the file noting on action taken on the complaint by the DEO, did not elicit any response from the Public information Officer and the 1st Appellate Authority. The 2nd appeal is pending with the KSIC since September 26, 2019.


As per Sec 28A of the Representation of People Act 1951, those who are drafted for election work are deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission of India, hence their control, discipline and superintendence will be vested with the Election Commission of India. This is quoted in all the proceedings of the District Election Officer and District Collector whenever the election machinery is set in motion.


But what happens if an Observer on election duty in one district of Kerala goes off to play golf in another district and is recalled by the Election Commission of India? When information is sought on disciplinary action taken against the Observer, the Public Information Officer simply informs you that it is not available with the Commission. And the First Appellate Authority of the Commission, a Principal Secretary, has the cheek to state that the information had been sought based on a newspaper report and recalling the Observer need not even be construed as a case of disciplinary or administrative action.

[See: ‘Survival by blackmail or art of governance’, February 24, 2018]


In an article in The Illustrated Weekly of India, ‘Fragile Chimera’ (September 6-12, 1987), K.R. Narayanan said “few men are so disinterested as to prefer to live in discomfort under a government which they hold to be right rather than in comfort under one they hold to be wrong. In politics and administration, it is not enough to be right. It is imperative that the goods are delivered to the people, there is law and order and a general sense of comfort and above all a common sense of unity in the country and the society.


Alvin Toffler observed in Future Shock that ‘psychologists studying the impact of change on various organisms have shown that adaptation can occur only when the level of stimulation - the amount of change and novelty in the environment - is neither too low nor too high’.


As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man’. 


I hope the writing on the wall is clear.


The author is a military veteran; the views expressed are personal

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