T N Seshan: The man behind Electoral reforms no more

A legacy that has since then been compromised. The present EC was a mute spectator that oversaw the dirtiest and slanderous elections in 2019.

Seshan
Seshan was credited with ushering in major electoral reforms during his tenure as the 10th CEC between December 12, 1990, and December 11, 1996.

Former chief election commissioner T N Seshan, who strictly enforced the model code of conduct and led the game-changing electoral reforms in the 1990s, died here on Sunday following a cardiac arrest. He was 86.

Born Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan on December 15, 1932, in Thirunellai, Palakkad district of Kerala, he fearlessly took on both inert officials and slack political parties to ensure fair and free elections in the country during his trail-blazing six-year stint between 1990 and 1996 as the chief election commissioner.

The legendary Seshan was not keeping good health for the past couple of years and passed away at 9:45 pm, his daughter Srividhya told PTI.

Though Seshan was largely confined to his home due to age-related health issues for the past couple of years, he was always passionate to write about his journey, the people he knew and eventful years in service of the people.

Popular and hated by politicians

Known for his no-nonsense attitude, Seshan was credited with ushering in major electoral reforms during his tenure as the 10th CEC between December 12, 1990, and December 11, 1996.

Till he took over, political parties ferrying people to the polling stations were considered quite “normal,” and it was during Seshan’s stint that it became impossible with the model code being made sacrosanct.

He reigned in muscle and money power during elections and ensured that bogus voting was averted to a large extent.

Such reforms were unheard of till he took over as the 10th chief election commissioner in 1990.

In his zealous mission to cleanse the electoral system, he earned the wrath of politicians including late AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa who had hit out at him for being “arrogant.”

He had won kudos and laurels as well including the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1996 for exemplary work in public, government service.

The citation had said, “In electing T N Seshan to receive the 1996 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service, the board of trustees recognises his resolute actions to bring order, fairness, and integrity to elections in India, the world’s largest democracy.”

In his acceptance speech of the prestigious award, Seshan had said, “I deemed this award a tribute to the process of democracy throughout the free world, to the wisdom of millions of India’s electorate not always necessarily formally educated, to the millions of Indian voters who have overcome disabilities of economic status, social disability, poverty, and prejudice to walk into the ballot booth and use that little marking stamp to decidedly say who they want to rule over them.”

Among other aspects, it recalled Seshan dispatching Central Police Forces to suppress local goons and prevent theft of ballot boxes.

A no-nonsense attitude was his hallmark, and he ensured checks and balances at all levels to see that the entire election process right from the scrutiny of nominations to conduct of polls were carried out according to the rule book.

From deploying election observers for fair play to fixing election schedules in a staggered fashion to help station security forces and rule out then-infamous “booth capturing,” especially in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Seshan led a slew of initiatives some of which invited the wrath of parties.

In 1993, the government made the EC a three-member body and appointed two more commissioners and it was then perceived as an attempt to rein in the unpredictable Seshan.

Known for his tough and straight talk, he once said he will tend the “garden in his house,” following retirement and not look for any assignments from the government.

Post-retirement, he unsuccessfully contested against K R Narayanan in the 1997 presidential elections. In 1999 Lok Sabha elections, he fought against BJP stalwart L K Advani from Gandhinagar constituency in Gujarat but lost.

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