Not many may be aware that the Commissioner of the Corporation of Chennai happens to be the Chief Electoral Officer for the city. The Revenue Department of the Corporation is responsible for the conduct of the elections for the Parliamentary and the Legislative Assembly constituencies here. The very first Assembly election post-Independence, was to land the Commissioner C. Narasimham, and the Corporation in a controversy, from which both were to emerge unscathed.
T. Prakasam, also known as Andhra Kesari, was a successful lawyer of the city and an ardent freedom fighter. He had shot to fame in 1928 during the Simon Commission protests. When a procession reached the Law College intersection, the police opened fire killing one man. The crowd was warned that anyone claiming the body would meet with the same fate. It was Prakasam who bared his chest and boldly went forward. The police withdrew and the crowds dispersed, Prakasam becoming a hero.
He was Chief Minister of Madras Presidency for a brief while in 1946, the Government lasting 11 months, thanks to the even-then legendary infighting in the Congress party. Prakasam later formed the Praja Party and it was on its ticket that he contested the 1952 elections to the Madras Legislative Assembly from the Harbour Constituency. He was after all the hero of the place, Broadway being just a stone’s throw away. Unfortunately for him, the Congress fielded Dr U Krishna Rau. A well-known doctor and onetime Mayor of the city, he and his father Dr U Rama Rau had built up an extensive medical practice in the Town area.
The counting of votes took place at the Victoria Public Hall with the Corporation Commissioner C Narasimham presiding. Prakasam, Krishna Rau and their supporters crowded the counting tables where the Harbour votes were counted. Each ballot box was shown to them before opening to verify that the seals were intact. By afternoon, it was clear that Krishna Rau was winning. Prakasam left the room and issued a press statement accusing Narasimham of tampering with the ballot boxes to favour Krishna Rau. The news was flashed to towns in Andhra where hostile demonstrations began. Lorry loads of workers paraded the main roads, shouting slogans and demanding action against Narasimham. Praksam filed a petition, naming Krishna Rau and Narasimham as respondents. A tribunal went into the matter and exonerated the Commissioner and the victorious candidate, within one day.
What followed next was even more interesting. Andhra state came into existence in 1953, with Prakasam being its first Chief Minister. Narasimham was appointed Collector of the new capital of Kurnool and therefore interacted almost daily with the new CM! It went to the credit of both that they harboured no ill will to each other. But then such were the times. Broadway was later renamed after Prakasam and his statue stands facing it. Ironically it is on the spot where he became a hero, and the constituency where he suffered a defeat!
This article appeared in The Hindu’s Melange, under the Hidden Histories column