Who was TN Seshan? Man who changed the face of Election Commission

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Published: November 11, 2019 9:01:15 AM

TN Seshan was described as an outstanding civil servant and known for his no-nonsense attitude. He served as the 10th CEC between December 12, 1990 and December 11, 1996.

TN Seshan dies, TN Seshan passes awayTN Seshan announces the dates for India’s general election at a March 19, 1996 press conference in New Delhi. (File Photo. Associated Press)

Former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) TN Seshan passed away on Sunday following a cardiac arrest. Seshan, 86, was not keeping good health for the past couple of years. He breathed his last at 9:45 PM last night. Seshan was largely confined to his home in Chennai due to age-related health issues for the past couple of years.

Seshan was a man who served the country with utmost diligence and integrity. Described as an outstanding civil servant and 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.

A tough man who followed the rule book, Seshan fearlessly took on both inert officials and political parties to ensure fair and free elections in the country. He enforced the model code of conduct and led the game-changing electoral reforms in the 1990s. Seshan, it was said, used to wield a big stick while enforcing the model code of conduct to reign in muscle and money power during elections.

Born in Thirunellai, Palakkad district of Kerala, Seshan was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1996 for exemplary work in public, government service. He was a 1955-batch Indian Administrative Service officer. He held various key posts in the government including that of the defence secretary and the cabinet secretary. Seshan, however, gained popularity only after he took over as the CEC in December 1990.

Till he took over as the CEC, political parties in the country ferrying people to the polling stations were considered quite normal. But during Seshan’s tenure it became impossible with the enforcement of the model code. In his mission to cleanse the electoral system, Seshan also ensured that bogus voting was averted.

Seshan even earned the wrath of politicians who hit out at him for being arrogant. However, he took stern measures to ensure free and fair conduct of polling in the country. Among other aspects, Seshan ensured the deployment of Central Police Forces to control local goons and prevent theft of ballot boxes. He also took steps to prevent vote buying. He banned ostentatious campaign displays and noisy rallies and required candidates to clean up walls and buildings defaced with their slogans.

It was Seshan’s mind that enforced spending limits and required contestants to submit full accounts of their expenses for scrutiny by independent government inspectors. He exposed politicians who made illicit use of public resources for electioneering and prohibited election-eve bonanzas for government workers.

He also banned the sale of liquor and seized unlicensed firearms at election time. He prohibited election propaganda based on religion.

Known for his tough and straight talk, he was bold enough to cancel Punjab elections in 1991 to ensure the poll process was not vitiated by violence.

Seshan unsuccessfully contested against KR 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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