Former Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan’s Bold Steps Reformed Poll Process, Kept Politicians In Check


Former Chief Election Commissioner Tirunellai Narayana Seshan died of a cardiac arrest on Sunday.


Tough, and a stickler to the rule book, TN Seshan 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.

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

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

A 1955-batch IAS officer, though he had held various key posts in the government including that of defence secretary and the coveted position of Cabinet secretary, TN Seshan became a household name only after he took over as the chief election commissioner.

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 the 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, Mr Seshan led a slew of initiatives some of which invited the wrath of political parties.

He was bold enough to cancel elections in Punjab in 1991 to see that the poll process was not vitiated by violence.

He completed his education from the Victoria College in Palakkad.

Mr Seshan was courageous and as Congress leader Sashi Tharoor put it he was a “crusty boss who asserted the Election Commission’s autonomy and authority as no CEC before him had done. A pillar of our democracy.”

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 TN 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. A spiritually oriented man, he was a devotee of Kanchi Sankara Math.

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