I soon returned to the Constituency for the second visit as Observer. This time, there was a posse of security personnel and civil officials as I landed at the airport, displaying obsequious behaviour. I tried to scurry through the sides. Little did I realise that I was the culprit. I drove straight to meet the CEO of the State.
He wanted to know from me, if any Observer’s report had been submitted to the CEC. When I responded in the affirmative, he informed that the Executive Engineer, incidentally carrying the surname of the candidate, had been suspended on the orders of the CEC and that the fear of Observer and terror of Seshan had struck among the civil and police officials.
He jestingly said the security arrangements was for the newly attained status of a VIP Observer, from Tamil Nadu cadre of IAS, a Madrasi or South Indian lady officer (used interchangeably) and a close relative of Mr Seshan, who has her eyes and ears. All of which was as wrong as wrong could be.
Once in the district, I resumed extensive touring of the entire length and breadth of the constituency, each day. In all the tours I videographed the number plates/election symbols of the vehicles used for election and other expenditures incurred by all the candidates and reported to the Finance Observer. The candidates were asked to declare the vehicles and other equipment being used. The Finance Observer promptly issued daily notices to the candidates to meet and explain the expenditure details, along with the statement of accounts.
In one of my journeys in the district, I saw a lavishly decorated high-rise arch-shaped gate. I stopped to interact with the people assembled there and inquired about the purpose of the putting up the gate by the national level members of the party to which the candidate belonged. They informed that this gate was to welcome the ‘kalash’ of a late national leader of that party that was being carried across from the West to East of India through the state. It was obviously to generate voters’ sympathy for the candidate. From all angles, it did not seem justified to have a gate at that juncture for the purpose mentioned.
No election stunt
Even if one did not want to interfere with the homage part, it was clear that the extravaganza generated through this and similar arches on the way were only to influence the public in favour of the ruling party’s candidate.
I decided that the rites can go on, regulating decibel levels, but that should not be translated into election stunt, with massive gathering. When I said that they should meet the Finance Observer and submit the expenditures incurred, they decided to bring down the gate by that evening. When I returned by the same road after some hours, the gates had been dismantled.
The CM cum candidate was being followed by the media, as is done normally during the campaign period. He reportedly appealed to them to not follow him, as he pleaded with them saying that the Observers were booking all the expenditures in connection with the entire entourage including the vehicles used by the media, to be eventually booked against the election expenditure of the CM.
Officials kept on toes
Several political parties kept meeting and making allegations about violations of code of conduct and I kept myself free to meet all. All the officials were kept on their toes to verify the complaints, take action and report compliance in the quickest time frame. Through discreet and unannounced movements based on information received, I was able to trap campaigners red handed for a party distributing sarees, dhotis and cycles in the constituency. They were seized and the illegal activities were stopped forthwith and notices issued for booking expenditures.
I had observed to the DM/SP that joint patrolling of police and magistrates was not at all visible on the roads, although vehicles had been requisitioned and notwithstanding an elaborate standing order of DM and SP on record for round the clock patrolling.
They tried to explain it away, even remarking that the state was calm and peaceful and did not require such rigorous measures. I ensured that the control room was constantly tracking vehicle movements for patrolling purposes over wireless, to act as deterrence for poll violations, as the date of polling was fast approaching.