IT WAS not just the rumours and allegations over tampering of voting machines that the Chief Electoral Officer of Madhya Pradesh had to overcome in the days leading up to counting of votes in one of the most closely fought assembly elections in recent times. He was battling a personal loss, too.
Early on the morning of December 7, with just four days to go for the results and after a late night at work, CEO V L Kantha Rao came to know that his father, V Suryanarayana, 80, had passed away in Hyderabad.
Within half an hour, the 1992-batch IAS officer was on his way to Indore from Bhopal to catch a flight to Hyderabad. In the afternoon, he was on the road again, from Hyderabad to his ancestral village Pasarlapudi Lanka in Andhra Pradesh, around 450 km away, with his father’s body.
After conducting the final rites, Rao managed to reach Bhopal on the night of December 9 and plunged straight into electoral work that stretched late Tuesday night as the see-saw battle in the state finally swung in favour of the Congress.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Rao said: “I thought we had done a good job when the polling was over on November 28 but our troubles began after that.’’ He was referring to allegations of tampering, and complaints about the delay in voting machines reaching the strongroom and power outages at the site.
“They were just allegations levelled by political parties. It’s easy to remove officials for lapses during elections. But the mistakes were not malafide, we had to defend the officials. This involved more paperwork because many reports had to be sent,’’ he said.
“I will now go back to my ancestral village on December 16 to take part in the tenth-day rituals,” Rao said.
Rao, who is from the MP cadre, was the principal secretary in the Department of Sports and Youth Welfare when he was appointed as CEO in July this year.
Within a month of his appointment, Rao was at the centre of election headlines when he held a written test on the directions of the Election Commission (EC) for government officials who were to be engaged in election duty.
Around 58 per cent of officials in the administrative set-up, holding the ranks of deputy collector, sub-divisional officer and tehsildar and set to be posted as returning officers and assistant returning officers, were made to appear for the test. But of the 567 who turned up, only 244 got more than 70 per cent marks, the qualifying threshold.
The EC then gave these officials another chance but did not release the results in public.