The phones ring endlessly while the stream of visitors to their offices is equally unending. Meanwhile, their e-mail boxes are flooded with mails while fax machines keep producing key instructions coming in from New Delhi. This is besides the WhatsApp messages, calls and frequent meetings with staff held throughout the day.
This in a nutshell is the everyday work schedule of a Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) during election time. While it is already a gruelling day at work, which goes on for several months at a time, they are also expected to keep their cool when a neta vents his anger at them, calls them names and belittles them.
So, how do the CEOs maintain their cool despite hectic work schedules and being at the receiving end of the netas’ ire?
“As CEO, one is always under intense public scrutiny and people have lots of doubts. But once you give them a patient hearing and explain the procedures in detail, they understand. Effective communication and total transparency is the key. Being available round-the-clock to clear doubts or confusion regarding electoral processes and constant interaction with all stakeholders also helps,” says Rajat Kumar, CEO of Telangana, whose super hectic schedule commenced in September last year when the K. Chandrasekhar Rao-led TRS government advanced the State elections.
Ask how he keeps his cool and Rajat Kumar says, “I hit the gym thrice a week and during peak election season, I take care of my diet as well. My gym trainer trains me for about 45 minutes. After all, my work during elections stretches from 16 to 18 hours a day. This is how the last eight months have been.”
In the neighbouring state, AP Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu was recently seen taking CEO of AP Gopal Krishna Dwivedi to task — the video of which has gone viral. Likening Dwivedi to a “post office” for blindly following the instructions of New Delhi (Election Commission), a visibly angry Naidu is seen berating him, “Do you have a conscience ? If you have to blindly follow what Delhi tells you, why is your office needed here? Close it!” Meanwhile, Dwivedi is seen sitting next to him, listening to everything with utmost patience.
In fact, Dwivedi has been repeatedly targeted by Chandrababu Naidu over the last couple of months, a situation that is likely to continue till the election results are declared on May 23.
Defending the CM however, Dwivedi says, “They (CM Chandrababu Naidu) are all respectable people and they say some things out of turn, but I don’t take them seriously.”
“All these things keep happening but I have important work at hand and therefore, I keep my complete focus on my work. Political parties keep saying a lot of things and as CEO, I try to do my best when it comes to my work,” smiles Dwivedi, who hails from Uttar Pradesh.
Interestingly though, Dwivedi received huge support from his IAS fraternity who took strong objection to Naidus remarks.
As to how he copes with the stress and strain of his work, Dwivedi shares, “Ï walk for about five kilometers besides 30 minutes of simple yoga. Also, I like to watch some comedy on TV.”
Tell him that the recent elections in Andhra Pradesh are comparable to those in Bihar and UP, and Dwivedi simply smiles.
“'The procedures are very well laid out by the EC and there is no scope for any different interpretation or rules of the EC. This is how it has been since 1952, when the elections were conducted for the first time in the country. That is why constant communication with all stakeholders is very important,” explains Rajat Kumar.
Like Chandrababu Naidu who went to Himachal Pradesh and Jagan to an unknown destination for six days following the hectic election season, are the CEOs of both Telugu states going on a holiday post May 23? “My son works in Amazon in Munich (Germany) and I am headed there for about 20 days from June 10. In fact, I was supposed to go to Germany in the first week of September last year and my leave was also sanctioned but suddenly, state elections were announced ahead of schedule and I had to cancel my trip. I have now sought permission from the Election Commission and my leave for June has been sanctioned,” informs Rajat.
In November 2017, the then CEO of AP, Bhanwarlal was accused by the TDP of bias in implementing the election code during the Nandyal by-polls. Then, on the day he was to retire, the State Government initiated disciplinary action against Bhanwarlal for failing to settle penal charges of `4.4 lakh for an “unauthorised stay in government quarters years ago.” Following this, retired IAS officer EAS Sarma wrote a letter to the then CEO A.K. Jyoti, alleging that the AP government was “trying to harass Bhanwarlal for not toeing the TDP's line during the by-polls.”