Tribute to a man for transforming the election process in India
The Election Commission is a temple in any vibrant democracy but it is commonly dragged into murky slug- fests between political parties today. It was unimaginable a few decades ago when T.N. Seshan was in charge of the poll body that he will transfor the basic strucutrue of the body by sheer ruthlessness to shape up new India. He is credited with cleaning up Indian elections as chief election commissioner (CEC) between 1990 and 1996, Seshan is widely seen as a “legend” who enforced the model code of conduct for the first time and invoked fear in politicians for his ruthless approach. He died in Chennai recently after a cardiac arrest. Expressing his condolences, incumbent CEC Sunil Arora said, “T.N. Seshan was a legend”. He will always be a source of inspiration to us and all CECs & ECs to come thereafter”. Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa, who made headlines earlier this year for dissenting with the poll body, said, “The passing away of Seshan marks the end of an era. He upheld the dignity of his office & earned respect by his fierce independence & effective functioning.“A goalpost for his successors, he continues to be a benchmark for the constitutional framework of a thriving democracy,” said Lavasa.
In his last years, he would’ve turned 87 and was ailing, yet the pale shadow of the man he once was, but Indian politicians, it was said half-jokingly, “feared only God or T.N. Seshan”. Even today, Seshan’s tenure is remembered fondly — the Supreme Court last year told the poll body to aspire for the kind of credibility it enjoyed during Seshan’s days.“He really gave the Election Commission the face and stature it enjoys today,” said V.S. Sampath, one of his successors as CEC.
First to implement code of conduct in letter and spirit of the constitution, T.N. Seshan seemed to own a big stick, and spared nobody while swinging it. During his tenure, he is credited with effectively implementing the model code of conduct for the first time, reining in muscle, black money power, official misuse of government machinery in elections, filing cases and arresting candidates for not abiding by polling rules and suspending officials for aligning with candidates.“The EC can continue to learn from his legacy. From the 1960s right up to the 80s, the EC was being run at the mercy of God, said H.S. Brahma, an other former CEC. “He was the first CEC to actually implement the model code of conduct and rule of law. Before him, election commissioners were happy to just announce election results.” The domination of political masters was always over riding factor in taming their appointee Election Commissioner / Chief Election Commissioner but TNS broke the norm.
Brahma added, “He was ruthless and unforgiving when it came to the electoral staff across the country about electoral discipline… And not just that, he was equally strict with politicians — he wouldn’t listen to them.”In 1994, in a move that raised many eyebrows in political circles, he advised then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao to remove two sitting ministers namely welfare minister Sitaram Kesari and food minister Kalpnath Rai from the cabinet for reportedly influencing voters. Despite being criticized for ostensibly overstepping his mandate, an unfazed Seshan stuck to his guns.
Having cut candidates’ expenditure during elections significantly, he ensured that the image of wealthy politicians landing in poverty-stricken villages in government-loaned helicopters, distributing alcohol and money, became a thing of the past.He maintained zero tolerance for campaign speeches stroking religion and caste-based hatred.
Today when the Indian election system is considered to be the most transparent and honest despite having the huge size of the electorate, the credit must be given to TNS for making our democracy vibrant and deeply en- trenched in a modern ideal state. The peaceful transfer of power is possible only when the credibility of election commission is accepted by the people at large, and TNS established that credibility in India.
He was a good friend and guide to me in person. I salute to his contribution in making this country a role model for any modern democracy across the globe for “how to practice democracy?” – He deserve nothing less than a Bharat Ratna.