Telangana found an innovative use for the model code of conduct (MCC), after the Lok Sabha elections ended. Lateef Mohammed Khan, the headmaster of the Government High School in Nampally, Hyderabad, was served with a notice of suspension for violating the “MCC Rules by uploading the video with his own voice, shared on his Facebook page and named ‘KCR Exposed’.”
Khan is a prominent civil liberties activist for over 20 years in the old city of Hyderabad. As head of the Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, he was at the forefront of the battle to bring justice to scores of innocent Muslim youngsters arrested on suspicion after the Mecca Masjid blasts.
He was also a key figure in the movement for separate statehood for Telangana. As a leader of the teaching community, he participated in the 42-day-long Sakala Janula Samme (the general strike) that brought the state to a stand-still between September 13, 2011, till October 24, 2011.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), after forming the state government, rewarded the participants of the movement by treating the general strike period as a special casual leave. Khan worked closely with the TRS during the movement and is also a recipient of the special statehood increment given by the government.
On April 29, 2019, the regional joint director of school education, Hyderabad, issued a show-cause notice to Khan, seeking his explanation for his conduct, saying it violated Rule 19 (5) of Conduct Rules 1964. Khan was asked why disciplinary action cannot be taken against him. Rule 19 (5) of Conduct Rules 1964 states:
“No Government employee shall canvass or otherwise interfere or use his influence, in connection with, or take part in, an election to Parliament or any House of a State Legislature or any local authority or body…”
This particular rule got an honourable burial during the movement for separate statehood. Professor Jayashankar was the ideological backbone of the movement, while Professor Kodandram, as the Joint Action Committee chairman, provided the strategic coordination among all the diverse interests participating in the movement to work towards the goal of statehood, setting aside individual aspirations.
Scores of other professors in their individual capacity, teachers’ unions, students’ unions, employees’ unions, participated in the movement. The public meetings and the social media saw bitter criticism of the then Central and state governments. After the formation of the state, several of them actively canvassed for the TRS party, led by K. Chandrashekhar Rao, and other parties in 2014 elections.
The show cause notice claimed that a complaint was given to the CEO, Telangana, against Khan for “violating the MCC Rules by uploading the video with his own voice,” shared on his Facebook page. The letter also claims that the CEO has forwarded the complaint to the concerned returning officer.
The officer seems to have conducted an enquiry, without informing Khan about the contents of the complaint or questioning him. His report says he noticed the violation of MCC and thus requested necessary action against Khan for violating the Rule 19(5) of Conduct Rules, 1964.
It is not clear from the letter whether Khan is being held guilty of violating the MCC or Rule 19(5) of Conduct Rules.
The timeline of events shows the way official procedure is being carefully deployed to victimise an employee, without jeopardising the prospects of those in the electoral fray.
Khan uploaded the video in November 2018, in the run-up to the assembly elections. In the video, he raised issues many Telangana voters were raising then and pointed out unfulfilled promises of the TRS government on free education from KG to PG, water supply to every household and two bedroom apartments. This is a continuation of the tradition of government employees participating in the political process that achieved the separate state and that brought the TRS and Rao to power.
The TRS government did not respond to the video when it was uploaded in November 2018. It continues to be available online.
Polling to the assembly was done on December 7, 2018, and the TRS won with a big majority. No action was taken against Khan then either.
The mysterious complaint to the CEO (chief electoral officer) surfaces and the first official proceedings are recorded on March 6, 2019, internally. The district election officer and the GHMC commissioner’s record of the violation of MCC appear on March 23. After the Lok Sabha polls were held on April 11, the show-cause notice is served on April 20.
On May 9, Khan responded in detail to the show cause notice, asserting his constitutional right and duty to speak for public causes. He also complained that the proceedings copy of the CEO was not provided to him. “Most crucially I have not been provided with a copy of the ex-parte inquiry report submitted by the R.O. 63- Nampally AC,” he adds. Khan said he was defending himself in the dark, as neither the complaint of violating the MCC, nor the enquiry report were available with him.
It appears that strategically, the “disciplinary proceedings” against Khan were timed so that it does not have an impact on the electorate, especially in areas like the old city, where people look up to him. The final suspension order was issued on May 17.
Speaking at an event in Hyderabad on the Telangana formation day (June 2), Khan said he sees himself first as a citizen of India who owes his allegiance to the Constitution. Only then would he like to see himself as an employee.
He also pointed out the irony of a senior teacher coming into the cross-hairs of the Telangana government, despite such actions having paid a huge role in the state’s formation.
Padmaja Shaw is a media analyst and a former professor of communication at Osmania University.