Tirunellai Narayana Seshan(T N Seshan) was the 10th Chief Election Commissioner of India from 1990 to 1996. Because of his contributions he is often referred as Father of Electoral Reforms in India.
He was born in Kerala. After doing Graduation from Madras Christian College, he started teaching there. Seshan topped the Indian Police Service Exam in 1953, and in next attempt got selected for Indian Administrative Service in 1954. His first posting was as Sub collector in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu. After working as Director of Programs in Secretariat for Rural Development in Madras he was appointed as collector of Madurai district. And there he got a fellowship to Harvard University to earn Masters Degree in Public Administration in 1968. After returning from abroad, he resumed his career and this time with senior level positions like Secretary at Department of Atomic Energy.
After working in many Ministries he was assigned to the Ministry of Environment & Forest by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Seshan worked there from 1985 to 1988 and make that ministry one of the most active one. He opposed Tehri Dam and Sardar Sarovar Dam projects but the decision was overruled by Government. He was known for his assertiveness, even though he was overruled several times by his Superiors. During all these years he had developed a bond of trust with Rajiv Gandhi and it paid him well as Rajiv Gandhi appointed him Cabinet Secretary, the highest post in the Indian Civil Service hierarchy.
In 1989, Chandrashekar became the Prime Minister and he transferred Seshan in Planning Commission. But soon his friend, Subrahmanyam Swamy, who was the then Law Minister, bring him back into the main stream by offering him the post of Chief Election Commissioner. There he changed the very face of election commission forever.
During his tenure there he reviewed more than forty thousand cases of false election return and disqualified fourteen thousand potential candidates. To conduct a general election in India is a gargantuan task. Election commission needs thousands of human resources to conduct these elections in a fair manner, and it fulfills this need by temporarily employing state employees. But the problem was they didn’t take their duty seriously, and they work under the pressure of local leaders. Seshan made it clear to the employees as well as the government that these employees come under the Election commission’s jurisdiction. And they have to follow EC’s orders. Though some politicians and bureaucrats oppose this, but Supreme Court ruled in the favor of Seshan.
In 1993 elections in Tamil Nadu, Seshan ordered Government to send troops in the state but Home Minister while saying that states cannot be forced to have such forces, refused to follow the order. Seshan declared that no elections would be held in the country until the Government recognizes the authority of Election commission. Again the matter was in Supreme Court, but Seshan relented.
In 1993, parliament in order to limit the power of Seshan, amended the constitution and added two additional commissioner to share the power with Chief Commissioner. But Seshan didn’t give in; he went to Supreme Court challenging the authority of Government to make such amendments. Supreme Court gave an interim order that the power of additional commissioners cannot be equal to that of Chief Commissioner. It said while he may consider added commissioners advice, he was not bound to follow their advice.
To make elections fair, another thing he did was the empowerment of voters. He started National Voters Awareness Campaign to make them aware of their rights and duties as a citizen. Seshan also called for the Government to issue photo identity card to all voters. Again, Government didn’t co-operate, so he declared that no election would be held in the country if ID cards were not issued to the voters. Few elections were postponed because ID cards were not ready, but Supreme Court ruled that voting is the inherent right of voters, and voting cannot be postponed for the lack of ID cards.
Seshan also created a group of Election Inspection Observers, which were recruited from Tax department. They were assigned the duty of checking the expenses by the candidates in every constituency on a day-to-day basis. One of Seshan’s controversial policies was the ban on the graffiti as well as loudspeakers, posters on public and private property. He also started the trend of conducting elections in phases.
His major contribution was the strengthening of the Election Commission. His policies deprived ruling parties of using government machinery during elections. Today we feel proud of our vibrant democracy. This has only become possible because Seshan never succumbed to the illegitimate demands of politicians. Through transparent and fair elections he ensured the peaceful change of leadership in our democracy. His work was acclaimed internationally and in 1996 he was awarded prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award. He was powerful, effective and a great administrator. Because of his stringent policies politicians became more careful, they started taking rules seriously. T N Seshan is always remembered as one of the most outspoken officer this country ever had.