Taruvai Subayya (T.S.) Krishnamurthy served as India'sChief Election Commissioner from February 2004 to May 2005 and has survived to tell his tale. He was the first Indian Revenue Service Officer to become a Secretary to the Government of India which is a feat in itself, but unquestionably, the Election Commissionership was his single great achievement. He may have missed out on joining the Indian Administrative Service, but as a friend from that Service told him: ?It is not that you missed the IAS it is the IAS that missed you?.
Considering what a poor rating the IAS has these rates?Krishnamurthy himself says how much he regrets ?the increasing number of Civil Servants willing to toe the line of politicians even when it was against the law??it is just as well that he stayed with the IRS Mr Krishnamurthy is nothing if not completely honest and straightforward. He spares none. He does not approve ?the frequent appearance of party leaders and ministers in government-sponsored advertisements during elections?. He thinks it is a matter of grave concern that such paid advertisements using tax-payers? money are authorised by senior civil servants. It comes as a shock to learn that in the financial year 2003-2004, Rs 1,591 million was spent by the government in advertisements in all languages. Krishnamurthy reminds us that this sum does not include ad expenditure (print, electronic media and banners) to the extent of another Rs 1292 million incurred by banks and Rs 1,336 million incurred by public sector advertisements.
Hopefully, when the 2009 elections take place (and earlier) our civil servants and ministers will first read Krishnamurthy'sbook to understand what is morally permissible and what is not. Krishnamurthy says that he has ?come across a number of civil servants who were more interested in taking policy decisions than in implementing them??another IAS shortcoming. Common was corruption during election time going unrecorded. Krishnamurthy says that election expenses invariably exceed legal limitations, especially considering that in India, while there is a ceiling on candidates? election expenditure, there'snone for political parties. This has to be looked into against the background of close to 900 (yes, nine hundred) parties which had been registered with the Election Commission in early 2008. Does anybody care?
The Supreme Court of India in a 1996 judgment said: ?The political parties in their quest for power spend more than one thousand crores of rupees on the general elections alone, yet nobody accounts for the bulk of money so spent and there is no accountability anywhere?. The situation has reached such depths that a Consultation Paper prepared by the National Commission to review the Constitution has been quoted as saying: ?So untrammelled by moral values has politics become that there are instances of the importance and claim to high office of a politicians being measured not in terms of what he can contribute to the state or public weal, but the size of the funds he can covertly raise and the necessary criminal power to win the elections he can provide?. Should we all cry: shame! shame!
Worse is the behaviour of the media which allows itself to be misused. Writes Krishnamurthy: ?Another subtle method of misusing the media is to encourage them to conduct opinion polls, the results of which support the government or a particular leader. It is suspected that even exit polls and opinion polls during the elections are sometimes tutored by both, the parties in power and those in opposition. Krishnamurthy is very much aware of the nexus between criminals and politicians, necessitating the deployment of paramilitary forces in and around polling stations. In 2007 in Uttar Pradesh alone, an entirely lawless state, more than 60,000 security personnel had to be deployed to maintain peace. Bihar is worse. There, according to Krishnamurthy, ?the voter rolls need to be verified well before the polls?. He rightly dismisses politicians as below contempt though, the gentleman that he is, he does not use such harsh words. Instead, he quotes Sri Aurobindo as saying that ?the average politician does not represent the soul of the people or its aspirations (and) what he does usually represent is, all the average pettiness, selfishness, egoism, self-deception?as well as a great deal of mental incompetence?.
Krishnamurthy is sick of the personality cult which, he says, is ?one of the most disconcerting features that is threatening liberal democracy in India.? As he puts it: ?One frequently sees the members of a political party surrendering their democratic rights unquestioningly to their leader. Most political parties tend to be leader-centric without any innerparty democracy. In one political party in India, the leader is made the head for his life-time?very often the leader does not like to have a second-line of leadership, unless it is from within his or her family.?? Krishnamurthy sadly does not mention names, but is one reminded of Sonia Gandhi and her yes-men? Krishnamurthy very rightly adds: ?If the parties are personality-centric, the governments formed by them also tend to become so. The culture of encouraging party activists to the second level of leadership is conspicuously absent in India. Most party chiefs and holders of key posts are older men and women?.
Shri Karunanidhi, kindly listen. Also Mr Deve Gowda, give this some thought. Tamil Nadu seems to have some of the most ruthless political leaders. Writes Krishnamurthy: ?I must refer to some written threats I received from the functionaries of the two leading political parties in Tamil Nadu?The language used in these letters was so demeaning that it did not merit any attention?.
But then Krishnamurthy also says that he had received similar threats also in Maharashtra and Gujarat. This book is to be read to be believed. Being an Election Commissioner is no fun and frolic. One has constantly to be on guard as much from politicians as from terrorists. Our democracy is flawed. In the 2007 UP elections for instance, very few elected representatives got more than 25 per cent of the votes polled. The 2004 parliamentary elections stand out in the history of election managements in India if not in the whole world, considering that 389.94 million out of 671.48 million voted and in all there were 4,935 candidates. This is a text-book on electioneering, fearless and frank and above all non-partisan. The title of the book is just right: India'sdemocracy is a miracle indeed.
(Harper Collins Publishers India Ltd., A-53, Sector-57, Noida (UP)