Seshan's bold initiatives led India's game changing electoralreforms

Seshan's bold initiatives led India's game changing electoralreforms (Eds: Recasting overnight story) Chennai, Nov 11 (PTI): Tough and a stickler to therulebook, TN Seshan fearlessly took on both inert officialsand slack political parties to ensure fair and free electionsin the country during his trail-blazing six-year stint between1990 and 1996 as the chief election commissioner.

Born Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan on December 15,1932 in Thirunellai, Palakkad district of Kerala, heruthlessly enforced the model code of conduct much to thechagrin of political parties.

Till he took over, political parties ferrying peopleto polling stations was considered quite 'normal,' and it wasduring Seshan's stint as CEC that it became impossible withthe model code being made sacrosanct.

Also, he ensured that bogus voting was curbed to alarge extent.

Such reforms were unheard of till he took over as the10th chief election commissioner in 1990.

In his zealous mission to cleanse the electoralsystem, he earned the wrath of politicians including lateAIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa who had hit out at him for being'arrogant.' He had won kudos and laurels as well including theRamon Magsaysay Award in 1996 for exemplary work in public,government service.

The citation had said, 'In electing T N Seshan toreceive the 1996 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service,the board of trustees recognises his resolute actions to bringorder, fairness, and integrity to elections in India, theworld's largest democracy.' Among other aspects, it recalled Seshan dispatchingCentral police forces to suppress local goons and preventtheft of ballot boxes.

'He took stern measures to prevent vote buying. Hebanned ostentatious campaign displays and noisy rallies andrequired candidates to clean up walls and buildings defacedwith their slogans.

'...he enforced spending limits and requiredcontestants to submit full accounts of their expenses forscrutiny by independent government inspectors. He exposedpoliticians who made illicit use of public resources forelectioneering and prohibited election-eve bonanzas forgovernment workers. He banned the sale of liquor and seizedunlicensed firearms at election time. He prohibited electionpropaganda based on religion,' the citation read.

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

'It, however, did not materialise,' Seshan's daughterSrividhya told PTI.

In accordance with his wishes, a trust was formed lastAugust for propagation of spirituality, the 'Narayaneeyam,' aspiritual and devotional compilation and the Vedas, she said.

A 1955-batch IAS officer, though he had held variouskey posts in the government including that of defencesecretary and the coveted position of Cabinet secretary, hebecame a household name in the country only after he took overas the chief election commissioner.

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

From deploying election observers for fair play tofixing election schedules in a staggered fashion to helpstation security forces and rule out then-infamous 'boothcapturing,' especially in states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,Seshan led a slew of initiatives some of which invited thewrath of parties.

He was bold enough to cancel elections in Punjab in1991 to see to it that the poll process was not vitiated byviolence.

Educated at the Madras Christian College in Chennai,he was courageous and as Congress leader Shashi Tharoor put ithe was a 'crusty boss who asserted the Election Commission'sautonomy and authority as no CEC before him had done. A pillarof our democracy.' In 1993, the government made the EC a three-memberbody and appointed two more commissioners and it was thenperceived as an attempt to rein in the unpredictable Seshan.

Known for his tough and straight talk, he once said hewill tend the 'garden in his house,' following retirement andnot look for any assignments from the government.

However, his post-retirement years were also busytimes for him. He unsuccessfully contested against K RNarayanan in the 1997 presidential elections. In the 1999 LokSabha elections, he fought against BJP stalwart L K Advanifrom Gandhinagar constituency in Gujarat and lost.

Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoocondoled Seshan's death, adding he is survived by Mahesh, theson-in-law of his adopted daughter Srividya. His wifeJayalakshmi died last year.

A spiritually oriented man, Seshan was a devotee ofthe Kanchi Sankara Math. PTI VGN ABHSS SS