Nobody questions the authority which the Election Commission (EC) wields during the elections. This is meant to ensure that the polls are free and fair. The assumption is that the commission is an independent body, above the taint of politics or any other accusation. Yet the appointment of a delinquent officer like S S Virk as the Maharashtra Director General of Police puts a question mark against the EC's objectivity. The police officer is facing corruption charges in the criminal case registered against him. That the Election Commission was divided over Virk's case does not in any way lesson the wrong done. Navin Chawla, the chief election commissioner-designate, is said to have put his weight behind Virk. The whole thing becomes coursier when Congress leader Amarinder Singh jumps into the arena to defend Virk. The charges against him relate to management of political funding when Amarinder Singh was the Punjab chief minister. Chawla's proximity to the Congress is not a secret. He owes the continuation of his job to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He is one officer who was nearly dismissed from service due to the misuse of power during the emergency (1977-79). On the basis of strictures by the Shah Commission which examined the excesses committed during the emergency, a top government committee decided to end his services summarily. The committee was headed by Home Secretary L P Singh and two of its other members were M M Hooja of the Intelligence Bureau and D P Kohli of the CBI. They held that Chawla was unfit to hold any public office. But he survived. The Congress returned to power in 1980 before he could be thrown out. The EC has done something worse. Virk's induction as director general in the Maharashtra police has created a piquant situation. He is the topmost police official, but debarred from election work. This task has been entrusted to another police official, S Chakravartty. All state police officials are made to report to the latter. Yet Virk is responsible for the state's law and order. The whole set-up is a strange menagerie. Chakravartty has less than three months to retire. The EC's own directive to the states is that an officer with less than six months in retirement should not be given any poll duty. True, the Maharashtra government - a Congress-led coalition - appointed Virk when Amarinder Singh pulled wires for his reinstatement. The hurdle in the EC was crossed with the help of Chawla. What is disconcerting to see is the government transcending bounds of honesty and integrity for the sake of party's convenience. Virk faces the criminal case of corruption. No court has given him any relief. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has rejected even his prayers to quash the First Information Report (FIR) and to transfer the investigation to the CBI. The Supreme Court has also not given him any relief in the criminal case. The only concession the High Court made in his case was to direct the state to appoint a new team for investigation. But the commission and the Congress government did all. Virk has come back to the Maharashtra cadre after remaining on deputation in Punjab for some 23 years. And he has only a few months to retire. How palpably wrong has been the whole process of Virk's appointment and his transfer from Punjab to Maharashtra? It has shattered the morale of honest officers. What status the recommendations of the National Police Commission will have when the government violates the main suggestion that a committee, including chief minister and the opposition leader, will make top transfers? Maharashtra is one of the few states which has accepted the National Police Commission's report in principle. The letter which the Punjab chief secretary wrote to the state chief electoral officer is itself a charge sheet against Virk. He was arrested and produced before a magistrate who remanded him to police custody. Subsequently, he was under judicial custody. His bail application was rejected by the session's judge. Virk remained under judicial custody for about one and a half months. Against him, there is evidence of disproportionate assets of over Rs 18 crore. His diaries have also been recovered and they mentioned the amounts of unaccounted money noted by him. The most damaging point which the chief secretary's letter highlights is that Virk "grabbed and retained the land of a war martyr's widow in connivance with his co-accused, one Sukhwinder Singh (Sukhi), who is involved in several terrorist killing cases in the state, indulged in the business of colonisation, ran an illegal Night Club and abused his official position to defraud the state exchequer." Still the Election Commission has ignored the indictment despite its clear instructions that the official must remain under suspension till the final verdict is delivered by the court. It has yet to pronounce its final judgement. There are questions for all the three: the Election Commission, the government and Virk himself. The commission has to clear itself of suspicion which has arisen over the manner in which Virk was sent back to Maharashtra and appointed as director general. In the same way, the Congress government in Punjab under Amarinder Singh and the Congress government in Maharashtra owe an explanation to the public for what they have done. Virk also owes an explanation because a top officer, with smudged reputation, cannot evoke confidence among people whom he has to serve. I find that ethical considerations inherent in public behaviour have become dim and even beyond the mental grasp of many of the public functionaries. Desire for self-preservation has become the sole motivation for their official actions and behaviour. The fear generated by the mere threat has become so pervasive that the general run of public servants acts as willing tools of tyranny. The appointment of Virk has exposed the entire system to ridicule. It is apparent that for many government servants the dividing line between the right and wrong and moral and immoral has ceased to exist. It is a pity that even the Election Commission has got mixed up at some stage. The writer is a former member of the Indian Parliament and senior journalist.