The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll point man who inspires poetry

Patna, Nov. 15: Forty couplets, or “chaleesa”, dedicated to K.J. Rao, special observer of the Election Commission in Bihar, were received this week by the CEC in New Delhi, informs a sprightly but bashful Rao as he shows a request for an appointment from “a fan”, Miss Anamika.

She, too, has written “41 lines of poetry” dedicated to him.

Rao, in his sixties and father of two daughters and a son, has been with the Election Commission for 40 years, but 1998 was the first time he visited Bihar and promptly recommended that the election in Patna be countermanded.

But this is the first election, he confides, when he is fully in charge and armed with special powers. Earlier, the commission would take decisions from Delhi, but Rao camps at Patna and travels obsessively.

When he found bad roads in Mahishi, he decided to ride pillion on a motorcycle. He has touched all the 243 constituencies of the state.

Today, he returned to his hotel at 7 pm after a long day, but by 8 he is ready to leave for Muzaffarpur by road.

Already a legend in Bihar, first-time voters in their forties and fifties thank him for being able to cast their vote for the first time. Headlines in local newspapers scream: “Rao ka jadoo chal gaya” (Rao magic works again).

There is no magic, the man insists. The law, for example, lays down that a constituency “shall have a returning officer”, but does not specify how many constituencies one can supervise. As a result, he claims, in Calcutta there were elections when there was a single returning officer for eight constituencies. In Bihar, Rao has ensured one for each constituency.

Digital cameras in sensitive booths, one observer for each constituency, correction of electoral rolls, enforcement of photo-identity cards, execution of non-bailable warrants, and action against errant officials, he says, have done the trick.

He also acknowledges the role played by the long and staggered election and the presence of 600 companies of central paramilitary forces, compared to 350 companies last time.

While the Election Commission appears to have curbed muscle-power, does the role of money still remain strong'

Rao grimaces. “Earlier they distributed cash at night and on the days just preceding the election; now they do it at daytime and long before the polling dates. Earlier they used vehicles like Scorpios and Sumos, now they are using motorcycles. So, it will take time to train the enforcement agencies about the latest tricks.”

The only graduate in his family (the rest are all post-graduates, he jokes), this Telugu from Srikakulam believes the current election in Bihar is the “fairest”. “I mean fairest in the entire country and during the four decades of my association with the Election Commission,” he emphasises, with a wag of his finger.

At the receiving end of criticism by Laloo Prasad Yadav and ally Congress, the poll panel and the state government have expressed concern about his security.

“All of us have to die once and what good is security'” he asks before driving off into the darkness.

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