TN Seshan or nobody – A Tribute

by January 24, 2020 0 comments

Tribute to a man for transforming the election process in India

Prashant Tewari – Writer is Editor of Opinion Express and regular columnist to The Pioneer. 

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.

Prashant Tewari – Writer is Editor of Opinion Express and regular columnist to The Pioneer. 

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