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The Rediff Election Special / Aditi Phadnis
A revenue officer on election duty
February 16, 2004
For students of trivia, here is a factoid. The Election Commission of India has seen many firsts, but here's another first -- it now has two election commissioners who are fluent in Gujarati.
The latest to join, N Gopalaswamy, is an IAS officer from the Gujarat cadre and, therefore, speaks Gujarati.
But few know that 63-year-old Chief Election Commissioner Taruvai Subbayya Krishna Murthy also speaks fluent Gujarati: he learnt the language when he was very young because his father, a railway employee, was posted in Gujarat at that time and learning a local language was compulsory in schools. (Because of his facility with the language, when he visited the state during the post-Godhra riots, Krishna Murthy was able to easily communicate with the locals.)
Krishna Murthy is also the first officer from the Indian Revenue Service to become CEC. There was some disquiet in certain quarters, mainly the IAS, as to the advisability of elevating him to CEC. But because the government did not want a controversy over the matter, Krishna Murthy found himself holding what will soon become the top job in the country.
Born in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, Krishna Murthy was a topper in his student days. He created a record in the Bachelor's examination of Mysore University by getting the highest scores in each paper.
He says two missionaries -- Father Lawrence J Collaco and Father Louis Mascarenhas -- taught him the values of fair play, justice and austerity.
They also taught him to savour literature and music: when he has the time now, Krishna Murthy returns to Shakespeare to preserve his sanity and sense of humour (Hamlet being his favourite play).
The tome that has taught generations the limits of diplomacy -- A History of Europe by H A L Fisher -- is one of his favourite books, as is Glimpses of World History by Jawaharlal Nehru. He listens to a wide variety of music, from classical Carnatic music (especially the veena) to modern jazz.
His career began as a probationary officer with the Reserve Bank of India, 33 years ago. He joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1963 and subsequently rose to the position of secretary, company affairs, in the ministry of law, justice and company affairs where he refused to give in to the demands of the then law and company affairs minister S Thambi Durai who was carrying out the mandate of the ADMK following orders from Chennai.
Krishna Murthy was one of the officers to frame the comprehensive Companies Bill to improve corporate governance and protect investors interests and also the first non-IAS officer to become secretary, company affairs.
A disappointment in his career, he has confessed to friends, was the denial of the post of the revenue secretary to him. Later, he was moved to the finance ministry as additional secretary. He came to the notice of the International Monetary Fund and was subsequently included in the panel of fiscal experts and sent to Ethiopia as tax adviser.
Krishna Murthy is quite used to dealing with pressure. He was posted as chief commissioner of income tax in Mumbai, where some corporations tried to give him a working-over through senior bureaucrats in the Central Bureau of Direct Taxes at the time. However, as with Durai, so also with fellow bureaucrats: Krishna Murthy was polite but inflexible.
Since T N Seshan, the Nirvachan Sadan has, arguably, become an edifice not only to house some of India's most efficient bureaucrats, but also some of the most cynical and -- as they approach the sunset of their careers -- the most embittered.
Krishna Murthy must have his regrets about his career, his own frustrations. But it is to be hoped that the Constitutional guarantee of his tenure (election commissioners can only be removed by impeachment) and the glamour of television cameras do not tempt him to walk down the road to self-aggrandisement.
He is nobody's man and the government got a taste of this when he told them to put a rein on their spending although the model code of conduct was yet to be imposed. This could be an instance of shadow warfare. But those who think he can be trifled with should correct themselves.
Also Read: The Nitty-Gritty Man