Kerala's Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena has hit the headlines a few times in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections over his strong official stances while setting the norms for parties and candidates on the campaign trail. Though he admitted that bogus votes were indeed cast during the elections held in Kerala on April 23, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has not taken any harsh stand against him publicly.
Pinarayi Vijayan, who hardly shows any soft corner to officials, apparently holds the opinion that Meena is a strict official who meticulously keeps to the rules. What could be the reason Pinarayi Vijayan has not shown any ire to Meena who had asked the Chief Minister to keep off from the inauguration of Consumerfed Student Market because of the electoral code of conduct?
Teeka Ram Meena speaks to Malayala Manorama:
Why these words of praise from the Chief Minister about you at this juncture?
There is no problem between me and the Chief Minister. I'm just doing my duty. For example, take the instance of his foreign trip. The journey could have been cancelled citing the code of conduct, yet permission was granted since the Chief Minister was taking this trip abroad for the welfare of the state. That should never be hindered. And it will not have any sway over the polls in any way.
It is said you went a bit overboard in barring the Chief Minister from taking part in the Consumerfed event.
The request for that function was submitted without following the protocol. According to the rules, only the Chief Secretary or the Secretary, Department of Cooperation, could have placed the request. Instead, it was submitted by the Managing Director of Consumerfed. If proper rules had been observed, the Chief Minister could have got permission to attend the function.
Why no action is still taken upon the complaints about the police postal votes even after the KPCC president himself has lodged a complaint?
I have sought explanation from the Director General of Police (DGP) regarding this issue. And he had assured that there will be no anomalies. Neither I nor the Collectors could do anything regarding this as the matter is under the control of the Police Department.
(On Tuesday, Kerala DGP Loknath Behra handed over to Chief Electoral Officer the Intelligence chief's report on the misuse of ballots by the members of the Kerala Police Association during the Lok Sabha polls in the state. Meena has already promised to announce action on the report . The report clearly states that two policemen were directly involved in rigging the process of collection and submission of ballots.)
What's your take on the Election Commission turning down your recommendation to disqualify a panchayath member who was allegedly caught casting bogus vote?
A criminal case has been lodged against that member. I'd only recommended for legal action against her, not for disqualifying her. I'd just reported about the matter. However, the present attempts are just to cover up a criminal act by diverting attention to the question whether I have the power to disqualify a member. This criticism, citing technicalities alone, is happening without even issuing a show-cause notice based on the recommendation I'd filed.
Your predecessors had remained in this post without causing any controversies. But why so many controversies are erupting at present?
I could have kept my eyes shut. But, it's something I cannot do. When you take decisions on complex issues, responses are bound to happen. There is no point in labelling them as controversies. I am trying to improve the present system. When I'm making the attempts to solve the discrepancies in the present system, my authority to do so is getting questioned. I cannot shut my eyes towards any party, be it CPI(M) or BJP or Muslim League, conducting malpractice under the cover of power, not while I remain seated in this chair. I can't carry that sin on my shoulders. There are laws before me, and I have the guts to implement those laws in that spirit.
The BJP says you are a henchman of the Left. When you came across bogus voting, the CPI(M) and the Muslim League turned against you? Whom do you actually support?
Right now, I'm representing the Election Commission. In that way, I stand for the entire people of this country. Some officials may adopt soft corner towards political parties. But I prefer to remain on the side of the public. I have only one Boss – the Law of the country, or the Constitution. If I'd remained favourable to any one political party, I'd not have got this posting. The only factor behind my posting is my independent stance. I was appointed to this post after getting assured of this. When I was the Collector of Thrissur, the CPM was in power. But, I've taken decisions impartially. The BJP has not yet come to power in Kerala. So, they have not yet understood my nature.
So, how long do you plan to go ahead like this, antagonising all political parties?
I've been here for 30 years. Though my native place is Rajasthan, Kerala has become the land of my 'karma,' and my 'dharma.' I'd to face many difficulties while performing my duties impartially. But I also get the support of the public for my honest actions. The state government cannot transfer me as I'm working under the Election Commission. I'll remain in this seat at least till the next Assembly elections. I have no wish to cause harm to the state government. I only wish to go ahead with a cooperative attitude.
From where comes this fighting spirit of yours?
I'm from a farmer family. We had to go through legal battle of 20 years for getting the land that we were cultivating even after the government had issued an order giving us the land. My father had a very narrow escape from gun point during that battle. He is illiterate, but he'd tell us to always uphold truth and dharma.