Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi says that time has come for a comprehensive review of the Representation of People’s Act. In his inaugural address at National Interactive Conference on Electoral Laws in New Delhi, he sought inputs on the Act from the legal fraternity present in the Conference. The issue is vital and needs rather a debate at national level because almost everyone is involved in one way or the other in the electoral process. Over the time, certain lacunae have come to the fore which need to be plugged.
For one, the Election Commission needs to develop a mechanism for strict enforcement of its Code of Conduct when the election process starts. Wily politicians have been finding ways to skirt the Code of Conduct as has been witnessed in the past several elections. The officials on election duty, when they go against the Election Commission guidelines, are ‘punished’ by the Commission. The same ‘guilty’ officials are amply rewarded if the party for which they had violated the Election Commission directives, comes to power. This demoralises honest officials.
Here is an example. When Shivraj Singh Chouhan became Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh in 2005, he was not a member of the Assembly, but a member of Lok Sabha. He resigned from Lok Sabha and contested from Budhni constituency in Sehore district. Collector of Sehore (a relatively small district) and Returning Officer S K Mishra was removed by Election Commission a few days before polling for violating the law to help Chouhan. As soon as the Election Commission’s Code of Conduct was over, Chouhan appointed Mishra Collector of Bhopal, one of the most coveted posts, and then Secretary to CM, virtually ridiculing the Election Commission and its Code of Conduct.
Reward for dishonesty
If the dishonest officials are duly rewarded by the party if it returns to power, those doing the election duty diligently and honestly are punished also, and the Election Commission has no power or mechanism to protect them. During the 2008 Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, Phoolchand Verma had filed his nomination papers as BJP candidate from Sonkutch (SC) constituency in Dewas district. Sajjan Singh Verma was the Congress candidate. Tukojirao Puar, a Minister of State in the Chouhan council of ministers, was the BJP candidate from Dewas.
As the scrutiny of the nomination papers was being held, Tukojirao Puar, accompanied by Phool Chand Verma, created a ruckus in the office of Dewas Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Sanjana Jain, who was the Returning Officer for the Sonkutch (SC) Assembly constituency. They wanted Sanjana Jain to reject Sajjan Singh Verma’s nomination papers because, they claimed, he did not submit Form-B (letter of authorisation from the party) within the stipulated time. As the lady officer tried to explain the things, Puar had lost his temper and he and Phoolchand Verma had started threatening her and shouting that she had taken a lakh of rupees for adjusting Sajjan Singh Verma’s Form-B, submitted belatedly. The rowdy behaviour of the BJP leaders had lasted for quite some time.
After receiving a report, accompanied by a CD of the proceedings in her office, from Sanjana Jain, the Election Commission pondered over the matter and directed the Chief Electoral Officer of Madhya Pradesh to get a criminal case registered against Puar under Sections 186, 353 and 506 of IPC. As the Sections make it a cognisable offence, Puar was subsequently arrested by the police. At the same time, the Election Commission had ordered immediate removal of Dewas Collector Navneet Mohan Kothari, who was the District Returning Officer, for not sending SDM Sanjana Jain’s report to the Commission promptly. Shivraj Singh Chouhan told an election meeting at Dewas a few days later that he was proud of Tukojirao Puar.
In due course, Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of Dewas D K Mittal framed charges under Sections 353 (assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty) and 504 (intentional insult) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) against Puar and Phoolchand Verma.
Meanwhile, BJP had returned to power and Chouhan again become Chief Minister. He promoted Puar to cabinet rank and transferred Sanjana Jain to an insignificant post. The case against Puar and Phoolchand Verma fizzled out. The Election Commission could neither protect Sanjana Jain nor ensure prosecution of Puar and Verma.
There is one more point. While taking up a comprehensive review of the working of Election Commission, a thought may also be given to amalgamation of Election Commission of India and State Election Commissions. At present every State has two establishments, Office of Chief Electoral Officer and State Election Commission. Both perform similar responsibilities, one in respect of Parliamentary and Assembly elections and the other in respect of local bodies. There will be better coordination if both are merged into one which works directly under the Election Commission of India.
I was a rookie reporter in Delhi. A friend asked me to visit a convict in Tihar Jail waiting for the noose any day in the next week or two for having burnt to death two innocent children in their sleep. He had exhausted all avenues of appeal.
I had followed in the newspapers the progress of the case in courts. He was a government employee and lived in a basti off Karol Bagh. His wife developed intimacy with a neighbour. When he came to know of it, he planned the revenge. One summer night when his wife’s paramour and his two children were sleeping on cots outside their house, he threw some inflammable substance on the two children and set them afire. The crime had rocked Delhi of the late 60s. The people were so outraged that they wanted him hanged immediately.
After his last appeal was rejected, he was put on death row in Tihar. Only family members were allowed to see him on a few days in a week. My friend, being his old family friend, accompanied his wife and two children as a member of the family on every visit.
I was loath to meet the perpetrator of such a horrendous crime. However, I did not say this to my friend but only said that my meeting him would not serve any purpose as I would not be able to write anything at this stage and, even otherwise, no amount of writings would help him now.
My friend said that it was not for writing, that the convict only wanted to confess his crime before someone and that my friend considered me as the only person among his acquaintances who had the patience to listen to him. Though reluctantly, I agreed to become another member of the family on the next scheduled visit.
The convict sat behind the grille in his cell – haggard, with sunken eyes and scraggly overgrown beard, looking more like a cadaver than a living person, staring blankly outside through the grille. When we approached, he glanced at us without displaying any reaction and returned to vacantly looking outside. However, when my friend introduced me and told him that I had come to hear his confession, a small flicker was seen in his eyes.
We sat on the floor outside the grille – his wife and two children, my friend and I. A prison guard stood a little distance away keeping a bored watch at us.
Some animation returned to his voice and countenance as he started what he insisted on calling his confession. When he learnt about his wife’s affair with the neighbour, he was so enraged that he couldn’t sleep for several nights. Then he planned a revenge. He mixed a chemical in kerosene (he was a chemistry student). This concoction, he said, would stick to the skin and could not be removed till the skin was completely burnt. He had given me the name of the chemical which I do not recall now. His plan, he said, was not even to kill his neighbour but only to burn his private parts.
On that fateful night, he filled the mixture in a small tin box, went to the spot where he found the three asleep on three cots and the alley deserted. He put a match to the mixture and threw it on the private parts of the neighbour. It appeared that the sudden heat on the sensitive part of the body made the neighbour jump and the burning liquid splashed on the children lying on their cot beside of him.
The convict said that he learnt about the death of the children next morning and felt devastated. He, too, loved the children dearly. He didn’t even want to kill the father and harming the children had not even crossed his mind. He had not been able to pardon himself for the death of the children and it lay heavy on his conscience.
I put only one question after he had completed his confession. I said: ‘you denied your involvement in the crime throughout the trial. If you had told the court what you are telling me now, may be the Judge would have been a little lenient while pronouncing the sentence, or, at least, you could have unburdened your conscience. Why didn’t you do that?’
He said that he wanted to, but his lawyer said that doing so would invite sure death sentence while he stood a good chance of acquittal by denying his involvement. Till the last, his lawyer did not agree to his telling the court what had really happened. Now all was over.
He was hanged ten days later.
According to the 1891 census, the number of widows in India was 2,26,57,426. Out of them 1,94,53,586 belonged to the Hindu and Jain communities while 32,03,846 were Muslims and Christians. Maulvi Syed Mazhar Ali further notes in his diary on June 11,1902 that the number of widows comprised roughly 20 per cent of the country’s total population. In view of their large number (and) plight, the problem can be solved to a large extent if the reformers of the country can persuade (them) and popularise their second marriage.
The census of India was completed on February 26, 1891. The population of India stood at 28 crore, 10 lakh persons. Out of them 22 crore, five lakh persons lived in British India and six crore five lakh persons in the States. The Maulvi records the caste-wise population as: Hindus 2,07,50,000; Muslims 57,50,000; Christians 25 lakh; forest population 9 lakh; Parsis 89,989; Jews 17,188; atheists 389; Brahmo 2,401; Aryas 4600; and followers of unknown religions 39,765.
Maulvi Mazhar Ali (1839-1911) belonged to a zamindar family of Sandila town in Hardoi district of (present) Uttar Pradesh. At the age of about 28, he developed a passion for writing a diary. He writes: ‘I, despite my shortcomings and limitations, was thinking for the past several years to write a daily diary containing information about different events correctly without any break so that it may prove useful for the general public. After considerable thinking, I ventured to start this work in Persian from January 21, 1867. I made it a point to include all the events and important news of the world without any interruption or break.’ In November 1887, he realised that ‘Persian is losing its popularity and very soon it will become a dead language and people will not pay any heed to my labour. Therefore, from December 1887, I started its Urdu translation and employed a young man Syed Mohammed Zaki to prepare a fair copy of my dictation.’
The Maulvi’s diaries, covering the period from 1867 to 1911, are spread over 7,800 pages. Dr Noor-ul-Hasan Hashmi, Professor of Urdu and Persian in Lucknow University and a grandson of the Maulvi, edited the diaries and got these published by Khuda Baksh Oriental Library, Patna, in 1990. Abdul Aleem Qidwai, a retired IES officer recently culled up some prominent events from the diaries and translated these into English. This compilation has been published under the title of ‘Ek Nadir Roznamcha’ (A Unique Chronicle).
Maulvi Mazhar Ali was a keen observer of the events taking place not only in his town of Sandila or Hardoi district but all over the world. His diaries give a wide view of the happenings in the world in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries not as seen, interpreted and recorded by a reporter or a historian but from the perspective of a layman engaged in public service. He has recorded every happening on this planet, be it death of Lord Mayo (Governor General of India) who had gone to see a jail in Andaman Island on February 8, 1872 and was fatally stabbed by a prisoner named Sher Ali; or the epidemic of red fever in the country; or the salaries of Viceroys and Governors; or the sighting of a comet; or rainfalls, famines and floods in various parts of the country; or the prices of food grains; or the harvest of mangoes; or the fights going on in Europe.
Here are glimpses of some of the interesting diary entries:
April 13, 1885: On 30th march at Panjda near Kabul a pitched battle was held between Afghans and Russians in which 500 afghan soldiers were killed. Russian Army chief was General Comroof.
February 25, 1889: At present the tallest man in the world is Hasan Ali of Egypt. He is 26 years old and his height is 7 feet and 9 inches. He was invited to an exhibition held in Berlin, capital of Germany, to show his height.
July 31, 1891: today I purchased English dictionary giving words and meanings of English and Urdu for five rupees (July 31, 1891)… I am convinced that the mullahs of maktabs (pre-primary schools) make their students dull. I have come across 7-year old students of maktabs who are unable to write a letter. I totally condemn this type of education.
August 23, 1892: A Parsi gentleman Dada Bhai Nauroji has been appointed first Indian member of British Parliament.
May 5, 1899: In Sandila town and its rural areas about 12 to 15 marriages are solemnised every day. (There was) such an abundance of marriages after the 1857 mutiny.
July 25, 1899: Today a new Mahadev temple was set up by Raja Durga Prasad with great pomp and show. In the night, music was played and fireworks were arranged. This is a great achievement of Raja Saheb.
March 11, 1900: it is reported that Bombay V.T. station is the most beautiful and costly railway station in the world.
May 16, 1900: Provincial Government has passed a resolution and published it in its Gazette dated 18th April about compulsory introduction of Devanagari in government offices.
August 26, 1903: Today a high quality English fountain pen which can be used for writing for hours was sent to Syed Iltifat Rasool. This pen Mustafa Ali purchased in London for three rupees.
June 27, 1904: I received an instrument to monitor temperature from Bombay costing rupees 4 plus 9 annas as postal charges. This instrument is placed in underarm of human body and shows his body temperature. If mercury shows 97-98 degrees then it would be called normal temperature of healthy man. If it goes below it or shoots up then it indicates that person is sick and weak.
August 13, 1905: Today Raja Durga Prasad sent me a beautiful cup in which a piece of sponge is kept. If one touches it by finger and seals the envelope, there is no need of any adhesive. This is a new European invention. For such new invention, the rich persons pay high prices to European traders and thus the country’s money is flown out of the country.
January 26, 1906: Kumbh Mela in Allahabad came to an end. It was attended by two million people. In a stampede on 24th January, 10 persons were killed and 18 seriously injured.
March 10, 1906: I have decided to arrange re-marriage of my grand-daughter who became a widow at an early age of 19 years. This step is against old tradition but I like it.
May 21, 1907: Lala Lajpat Rai, a prominent and rich lawyer of Lahore, is imprisoned in Mandalay Fort, Burma.