Of ethics and integrity

I recall the incident as if it has happened just yesterday

Rattan Raina IPS ( Retd.)
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 22 2018 10:51PM | Updated Date: Jan 22 2018 10:51PM
Of ethics and integrity

Around mid eighties, assembly elections were due to be held in Jammu & Kashmir and as per the practice, one Superintendent of Police would be posted  as Zonal Officer with sufficient police force at his disposal and one senior IAS/KAS Officer as Returning officer in each Electoral Constituency. The primary duty of both the officers was to ensure that the election process was held in a very peaceful manner and without any interference from unruly and antisocial elements.

When the election dates were announced, I happened to be posted as Zonal Police Officer of BISHNAH constituency and one senior KAS officer as the Returning Officer. Pertinent to mention here that the two constituencies of District Jammu ie, Bishnah and RS Pura had a notorious reputation for goondaism and unlawful activities during election days. In fact, all the political parties including the ruling one would try their best to use all means at their disposal, fair and foul, to garner votes for their respective party candidates.                       

However both myself and the Returning Officer took great pains in ensuring proper police deployment on each and every polling booth of the constituency. The CRP personnel were kept as stand by reserve to deal with unforeseen law and order situations.          

And finally the D day arrived. The weather was fine and so was the morale of our troops. The polling process went on smoothly barring few untoward incidents at few places but the issues were sorted out on spot without any violence.. After the polling was over in the evening, the ballot boxes from all the polling booths  were shifted safely to the counting centre: Main hall of the designated Higher Secondary School situated in Bishnah Town just opposite the main Police Station.

It was around nine o’clock in the evening that after ensuring all the ballot boxes were accounted for properly, the doors and windows of the School Hall were secured and main entrance door also locked and sealed besides sufficient local police personnel briefed and deployed under the supervision of Dy. Superintendent of Armed police that we felt relieved that the job was finally done for the day.

Here I want to place on record that my counterpart - the Returning Officer did a commendable job in helping me and tactfully diffusing volatile situations as and when these occurred during the polling process.

Feeling awfully tired and thoroughly exhausted, both the Returning officer and myself were taking rest when the SHO of the Bishnah Police Station came and invited us for Dinner in the evening at his residence nearby. Though both of us politely declined but he was so adamant and persuasive that finally we accepted his invitation and around 9. 30 in the evening we both went to his residence.

After serving couple of drinks, the dinner was served. we really felt relaxed and enjoyed a lot after such a hectic day when I was shocked and didn't believe my ears as to what I had really heard. It so happened that the SHO, the host suddenly looked very serious and said that he had to tell us  something very very important and the task had to be done at all costs. This is exactly what he said.

"Sir, I have received an  instructions  from Mr. Wani(Name changed ) that 6 or 7 ballot boxes, which are arriving shortly need to be replaced with equal number of ballot boxes already deposited in the Counting Centre School Hall. Mr. Raina will kindly direct the police officer incharge security to permit us to enter inside to do the needful. It should not take us more than 5 to 7 minutes to complete the job. Sir I suggest the time to enter inside the hall should be around 3 am" the SHO concluded.

I really felt as if a bomb had exploded in the room and wouldn't believe my ears. However, I kept my cool as all others were looking at me for my reaction. But surprisingly, no one and not even the Returning Officer raised any objection. It seemed as though all others  were already on board and already taken into confidence much earlier. While the discussion was still on as to  how best to execute the job, I felt that there were 3 options left  before me.

One was to be a  party to their scheme of things and execute the instructions issued by Mr. Wani ( Name changed ) but this was totally against  my conscience and thus I would never agree to go ahead.

Second option was to confront all present there and then and bluntly refuse to allow the replacement of ballot boxes. This would however, create a very unpleasant situation. Besides in such case the Returning Officer would certainly call Mr. Wani (name changed) on phone and make me talk to him which would rather further complicate the matter and if  the word would somehow leak out , it would create a political storm in the state.

The third option was simply to buy time and pretend to  agree with their decision till a way was found out  to solve the issue. I therefore told them that my full support was there and that I would be posting my most trustworthy officer on security duty at the School premises. The time to execute the plan was fixed at 3 am sharp. Having finished the dinner, we all left the SHO's residence in a cordial atmosphere to rest for the night in our respective rooms at Bishnah Dak Bungalow.

Knowing fully well that Mr. Wani was a top ranking senior bureaucrat, highly influential and very close to Chief Minister and other Cabinet ministers, I started thinking hard as to how the issue be tackled. Then suddenly an idea  struck my mind.

Yes! Why not to handover entire security of the School premises to CRP personnel and withdraw the local police altogether. So, quietly at midnight and without losing any time,I got the handing over/ taking over of duties done putting CRP men in place with their Gazetted Officer  as incharge security. Besides, clear orders were given by me to CRP Jawans  to the effect that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WOULD ANYBODY BE PERMITTED TO OPEN THE LOCK OF THE SCHOOL HALL TILL 9 AM IN THE MORNING. Feeling satisfied with the the arrangements thus made , I sat in my jeep and quietly left for Jammu in the night.

By 6 in the morning, I was back at Bishnah and immediately  made a round of the School premises. The CRP Officer told me that the Returning Officer and the SHO  had met him around 3 at night and had compelled him a lot to let them open the lock of the  School Hall ( where ballot boxes had been stored ) but were refused permission to do so  . He further said that both the officers searched for me during the night but found my room locked from outside. I felt really relieved that an ugly and serious situation had been averted.

Sharp at 10 o'clock, counting of the votes started. But the Returning Officer, his immediate staff  as also the SHO totally avoided to talk to me for the whole day. Mr. Wani the high profile bureaucrat along with his motorcade also paid us a visit during the day to supervise the arrangements made at the Counting Centre. We both met in the hall and though very well known to each other, the gentleman looked the other way thus conveying his displeasure to me.

Around 5.30 in the evening, a huge crowd of about 1000 people had assembled outside the school premises. Finally, when the counting was over, the result was announced. And the candidate from opposition party Mr. Chajju Ram was declared the winner.

Now today after about 30 years when I look back, I still recall every moment of the whole incident as if it all happened only yesterday. And I also feel happy and proud to have been true to my profession.