TWO controversies that rocked Kerala last week provide fresh evidence of political contamination of the official machinery, affecting its ability to discharge its functions impartially.
One controversy related to the enrolment of bogus voters in advance of the Assembly by-elections scheduled for Nov.7. The other related to the inclusion of a question that betrays political bias of teachers.
The first controversy grew into a messy affair before the Election Commission of India intervened and provided partial relief. The possibility of its erupting again after the polling cannot be ruled out.
The second controversy ended quickly with Education Minister MA Baby graciously acknowledging the mistake.
The Assembly by-elections in Kannur, Ernakulam and Alappuzha were necessitated by the election of their representatives to the Lok Sabha. All the three seats were held by the Congress, which heads the opposition United Democratic Front.
The outcome of the by-elections will not affect the stability of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, which has a comfortable majority in the Assembly. However, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which heads the coalition, is eager to grab at least one seat to boost its sagging image.
The party considers Kannur its best bet. Although Kannur town has been out of its hands for more than three decades, Kannur district is its stronghold. It also happens to be the home district of party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.
The Congress's decision to put up AP Abdullakutty, a former CPI-M member of the Lok Sabha, as its candidate in Kannur was a taunt which the party could not ignore. It fielded MV Jayarajan, a close lieutenant of Pinarayi Vijayan and architect of many successful electoral strategies.
K. Sudhakaran had won the seat in 2006 by a margin of 8,376 votes over his CPI-M rival KP Sahadevan. The Congress party alleged that the CPI-M had enrolled about 10,000 new voters with the help of pliant officials to offset its winning margin. It also charged that several hundred Congress voters had been dropped from the electoral rolls.
The CPI-M claimed it was the Congress which was guilty of enrolling bogus voters. It said the party, sensing defeat, was levelling false charges.
Media reports highlighted several instances of irregular enrolment. They pointed out that some of the addresses given by the new voters were non-existent.
The CPI-M may not be the only party which resorted to illegal enrolment but its involvement is clear from the fact that scores of newly registered voters are shown as living in premises under its control.
The revised rolls published last Wednesday shows an increase of 9,357 in the electorate. According to the electoral rolls officer, a total of 12,631 applications had been received.
The Congress took its complaints against the revised voters list to the Election Commission. The party asked that District Collector VK Balakrishnan, who was acting in collusion with the CPI-M, be removed.
The Commission directed the state government to replace the Collector but rejected the Congress demand that the by-election be postponed or held on the basis of the earlier voters' list.
The Commission's inability to ensure the elimination of all ineligible voters points to its limitations in the context of widespread political contamination of the official machinery.
The controversial question set for the half-yearly higher secondary examination cited a newspaper report on the death of Mercy Ravi, wife of Union Minister Vayalar Ravi, as an instance of the media giving undue importance to rich and influential persons and asked the students to write protest letters to the editor against the excessive coverage.
A former legislator and nationAl level leader of the Mahila Congress and the Indian National Trade Union Congress, Mercy Ravi was a public figure in her own right.
When the LDF is in power the task of setting question papers is entrusted to the pro-CPI-M Kerala State Teachers Association.
After the minister conceded that the question was inappropriate, KSTA general secretary C. Usman claimed the organisation was not aware of the contents of the question papers, prepared by the academic councils constituted by it.
Over the last decade several instances of government employees holding membership of the CPI-M in violation of the service rules have come to light.
The posts they occupy range from those of college professors and executive engineers to those of policemen.
It is almost certain that other political parties, too, have attracted government employees through service organisations under their control.