How Seshan, the sabre rattler, shot gun owners

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: India is really a wonder land like no other and amid our medley of colourful and vibrant States, Bihar stands out as the most bizarre. Among its many attributes which are simply too many to be dealt with at length here, its lawlessness and its people’s long-standing fascination with guns, both legal and illegal, stands out.

There, the status of any man or even woman of substance is measured by the number of guns he or she totes. Similarly, the stature of a politician there is indicated not by the number of elections won but by the number of gun-toting security personnel around him or her.

The Biharis’ fascination for guns goes to such extreme lengths that to counter the dismally low vasectomy rate the government had at times even announced the liberal granting of gun licences to men willing to get sterilised. The result was that even young boys still years away from fatherhood and elderly widowers long past their productive years, started turning up eagerly at vasectomy camps leaving the actual target population far behind!

A recent newspaper report says that while this craze for weapons is well-known, now even eunuchs have developed a taste for it as a member of their group who is an active worker of the BSP and an ardent fan of Mayawati, has been granted a licence for a revolver by the district magistrate of Mau, about a hundred kilometres from Varanasi.

While the concerned official has rightly defended his action saying that there is no law which bars eunuchs from holding arms licences it is interesting to note that Shweta, the eunuch wants to wield the six-shooter to protect herself (or is it himself?) during next year’s Parliamentary elections which she proposes to contest with Mayawati’s blessings.

She also says that she has already applied to the concerned authorities to get the jurisdiction of her licence extended to the entire country. Considering her connections, this should be a cakewalk for her although for lesser mortals like us this may seem like a midsummer night’s dream.

While things may appear very rosy for gun owners in bullet-riddled Bihar, they certainly seem to be rather dismal for all those who possess licenced weapons in our own State of Karnataka.

For some years now and for some strange and inexplicable reason, the much scrutinised and verified bonafides of all the law-abiding citizens who hold gun licences instantly become suspect and like the worst anti-social elements and history-sheeters they are asked to deposit their weapons in Police Stations every time an election is announced anywhere in the State.

In fact, this is the first preventive measure that the police are now being asked to take as a part of their law and order maintaining drill even during municipal and corporation elections. This rather shameful tradition which was not imposed upon us even during the darkest days of the Emergency was started when T.N. Seshan was at the helm of affairs as the Chief Election Commissioner.

The Election Commission may be vested with constitutional powers to do this and more but the question is whether it is necessary to enforce this rule as thoughtlessly as is being done now?

Since it has now been written down as one of the sanitising measures in the rulebook of the district administration and since we have all shamelessly tolerated it without a whisper or a whimper, it continues to be dished out to us even long after the Seshan era.

Like his famed election identity cards that did precious little for us or for our electoral malpractices, beyond soaking crores of rupees into the pockets of fly-by-night photographers, this ignominy too was one of Seshan’s many “revolutionary” measures which were meant more for effect than for any real purpose.

He just wanted to show us all that he was a different kind of businessman when it came to the business of conducting free and fair elections.

Since he was a confirmed sabre-rattler, like all people whose bark is worse than their bite, he had to necessarily resort to such theatrical measures. Now when you look at the election scenario in all fairness, while some goons may be using guns to get people to vote as desired by them in a few other states, the gun, especially a licenced one, has never played any role in any poll in Karnataka.

Gun licences are one of the toughest documents to get and they are granted only after a person’s conduct, character, social standing, and his or her need for it are cleared by the Police after the strictest scrutiny. All licence holders who are from the cream of our society therefore tend to be very responsible and law-abiding citizens of whom the State should justifiably feel proud.

Moreover, unlike illegal weapons all licenced weapons if wrongly used are liable for easy confiscation as they and their owners are easily traceable. Therefore, except for being used in the rarest of rare cases to protect ourselves or our neighbourhood, licenced weapons in the possession of citizens act as very strong and necessary deterrents to crime by their presence rather than by their actual use.

Therefore, when everyone good and bad comes to know that all weapons owned by private citizens are safely locked up in police stations for long periods during the election time, it is an open invitation to all criminals to make hay as soon as the sun sets.

Late night travellers and all those who reside in scarcely populated suburbs and farm houses far away from police stations become prone to this risk. The police simply cannot be expected to be present everywhere at all times to protect us. This is especially true during elections when anti-social elements are most active requiring the deployment of police personnel at more sensitive places.

All is well if nothing happens but it should be realised that things can go horribly wrong as they do from time to time and when this happens, the wisest advocates of gun control will not look so wise.

Unknown to those who do not possess them, in our country licenced guns unlike unlicenced ones now come only at a very hefty price after all firearm imports were banned as a carefully planned prelude to “Operation Bluestar”. Our handguns especially are literally worth their weight in gold and considering the care and attention with which we look after them, police stations are certainly not the places where they should be tossed around when they are guiltless of any crime.

There have been more than one instance where priceless guns have somehow been misplaced, replaced or even lost while in police custody thereby causing much embarrassment to the department and distress to the owners.

For the police, too, it is certainly not an easy task to keep track of every gun left in their custody and return it to the owners safely. But since the police and district administration are duty-bound to follow all rules both sensible and senseless, they are helpless in this matter.

Therefore, it is time licenced gun owners did something collectively to prevail upon the Election Commission and other concerned authorities to stop resorting to this pointless and potentially dangerous exercise in the future. We may have to create effective public opinion by interacting with, like-minded people all over the State, legal luminaries, and bodies like the Karnataka Rifle Association to deal with this humiliation.

K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a regular column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared.