How a misleading electoral forecast in 1971 cost the Chief Secretary his job

Immediately before the 1971 Assembly election results, the DMK was expected to be voted out and K. Kamaraj to head the government again. Chief Secretary E.P. Royappa and Inspector-General of Police R.M. Mahadevan called on Kamaraj to “greet him in advance”. After the DMK scored a landslide, Chief Minister M. Karunandhi transferred both

Updated - June 12, 2024 05:36 pm IST

Published - June 11, 2024 10:52 pm IST

E.P. Royappa was made the Vice-Chairman of the newly established State Planning Commission.

E.P. Royappa was made the Vice-Chairman of the newly established State Planning Commission. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

R.M. Mahadevan was posted as the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption.

R.M. Mahadevan was posted as the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Electoral forecasts may be misleading sometimes, as in the case of several exit polls for the 2024 Lok Sabha election. The latest episode reminded many of what had happened in Tamil Nadu during the March, 1971 Assembly election. Then, there were no agencies dedicated to making such forecasts and publishing them. But, immediately before the results were declared, talk in political and administrative circles was that the DMK would lose power and former Chief Minister K. Kamaraj, the face of the Congress (Organisation) in Tamil Nadu, would head the government again.

The Congress (O), the Swatantra Party, and the Samyukta Socialist Party constituted one coalition. The ruling DMK, the Congress (Requisitionists or Ruling), the Communist Party of India, the Praja Socialist Party, the Forward Bloc, and the Muslim League constituted the other alliance.

As recalled by the DMK’s former Member of Parliament, R.S. Bharathi, recently in an interview to Tamil television channel Puthiya Thalaimurai, the impact of the talk was such that the then Chief Secretary, E.P. Royappa, who had held the post since November 1969 (nine months after M. Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister), and R.M. Mahadevan, who had been the Inspector-General of Police (the highest rank then) since March 1968, called on Kamaraj to “greet him in advance”, even before the results were out. Incidentally, unlike in 1967, when he was in the fray from the Virudhunagar Assembly constituency, Kamaraj contested from the Nagercoil (now called Kanniyakumari) Lok Sabha constituency and he was re-elected.

Asked what would have made the two top officials to act in this manner, Panruti S. Ramachandran, a DMK MLA then, replies that as Mahadeven had accompanied Royappa, there could have been some inputs from the Police Department’s intelligence wing pointing to the return of the Congress to power.

A record for the DMK

But the results must have been shocking to Royappa and Mahadevan. The DMK scored a landslide, bagging 184 seats, a record that remains unparalleled for any party in the State. Excluding the Congress (R), which chose not to contest in the Assembly election though it fielded candidates in the Lok Sabha election held simultaneously, the ruling party’s allies won 21 seats. The Congress (O) captured only 15 seats and the Swatantra Party six.

On the night of April 6, Karunanidhi announced the ouster of Royappa from the post of Chief Secretary and made him the Vice-Chairman of the newly established State Planning Commission, which was headed by the Chief Minister himself. P. Sabanayagam, First Member, Board of Revenue, and Chairman of the (now abolished) State Electricity Board, succeeded Royappa as the Chief Secretary.

A week later came another announcement that F.V. Arul, who was the Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi, would succeed Mahadevan, who was transferred as the Director of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption. Arul’s predecessor, who went on leave in May for two months, died of a heart attack at a hospital in Bengaluru on July 11.

Royappa, too, proceeded on leave from April 13, 1971 to June 5, 1972. He rejoined the duty on June 7, 1972, “under protest as conveyed by his letter” to the Chief Minister, reported The Hindu on July 18, 1972. On June 27 that year, he was transferred again as the Officer on Special Duty for rationalisation of sales tax and other commercial tax laws. Two days later, he shot off another protest letter and went on leave for four months.

‘A unique post’

The former Chief Secretary was not the one to remain quiet. He approached the Supreme Court in July 1972 with a writ petition and challenged the validity of the two transfer orders. Accusing the government of having issued the orders on ground of “malafides” and “victimisation”, the petitioner said the post of Chief Secretary to a State government was “unique” and the duties and responsibilities of no other post in a State government could be said to be of a similar nature.

He also alleged that the government posting him as the Officer on Special Duty was “an arbitrary act, malafide in nature and violative of Articles 14 and 16 of the Constitution so far as it is intended to victimise” him for due discharge of his duties during the mid-term poll in maintaining law and order “independently and without fear or favour, even as against the illegalities and violations of law by the DMK and Ministers”. Leading advocates Nani Palkhivala and A.K. Sen appeared for Royappa in the case that was heard by the Constitution Bench of Chief Justice A. N. Ray and Justices D.G. Palekar, Y.V. Chandrachud, P.N. Bhagwati, and V.R. Krishna Iyer.

According to a report of this newspaper on August 17, 1972, at a “midnight press conference”, the Chief Minster had announced the transfer of three senior-most officers of the government — the Chief Secretary, the Inspector-General, and the Commissioner of Police of Madras — to what the lawyers called sinecure posts.

Supreme Court dismisses petition

But, in two separate judgments, Royappa’s petition was dismissed by the court in November 1973. It held that the basic contention of the petitioner regarding his transfers, “plausible though it may seem, cannot be accepted” because there was no “adequate material” placed before the court. Discussing the vital role of the Chief Secretary vis-à-vis the Chief Minister in the matter of running the administration of a welfare State in a democratic set-up, the judgment said, “If, for any valid reason, the Chief Secretary forfeits the confidence of a Chief Minister, the Chief Minister might legitimately, in larger interests of administration, shift the Chief Secretary to another post, provided, of course, that would not involve violation of any of the given Chief Secretary’s legal or constitutional rights,” reported The Hindu on November 24, 1973. However, the court had said there was no compliance with the relevant provision of the IAS (Pay) Rules in the appointment of the petitioner as the Officer on Special Duty.

In the middle of December 1973, Royappa, who had the distinction of being a member of the first batch of the IAS to hold the post of Chief Secretary, quit the government service. In his letter, he said that “for reasons of conscience”, he was tendering his resignation, this newspaper reported on December 13, 1973. He later filed a review petition, which was dismissed by the court in August 1974. In December 1993, Royappa died in Chennai after a brief illness. He was 75.

After the Royappa episode, many Chief Secretaries were transferred, but none of them went to court against the government decision.

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