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TN Seshan
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TN Seshan, the man who made Election Commission realize that its not a ‘Toothless Tiger’

In asserting the authority and independence of the Election Commission, TN Seshan often locked horns with India’s Supreme Court.

Mumbai: On Sunday night T.N. Seshan,86, the chief election commissioner of India from 1990-96, died of a cardiac arrest at his home in Chennai. Known for reforming the country’s electoral system including issuing voter IDs to everyone eligible, Seshan was a fierce advocate of strengthening the office of ECI. 

Many poured Condolences for Seshan who was a 1955 Tamil Nadu cadre officer of the Indian Administrative Services including politicians as well as public figures from all walks of life.

TN Seshan had a lion’s share in rebuilding the Indian electoral system to work as an independent and credible agency. He revamped the whole system when the Indian elections were flooded with booth rigging and misuse of the government machinery. He oftentimes locked horns with powerful politicians setting an example for the next generation of Election Commissioners.

He gave a unique identity to the office of Election Commission. He showed India that EC was more than a body that announces polls dates but also an office that keeps check on the politicians. At a time when Election Commission seems to have lost its teeth, here’s a reminder to what Election Commission stood for as envisioned by TN Seshan.

When was the election commission founded?

The Election commission was established in 1950 when it had a chief election commission appointed. Membership increased on 16 October 1989 to three with the increase of two Commissioners. That commission ceased on 1 January 1990 when The Election Commissioner Amendment Act, 1989 superseded the earlier commission; it continues in operation. Decisions by the commission are by at least a majority vote.

What is the structure of the election commission?

The secretariat of the Commission has 300 officials and is located in New Delhi. The Deputy Election Commissioners and Director Generals are the senior-most officers in the secretariat. The President of India appoints the Chief election commissioner of India serves for six years and must retire at the age of 65. The Commissioner is generally a member of the Civil Services, and more often, of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) or the Indian Revenue Services (IRS). He can be removed from his office through the process of impeachment, which needs to be carried out in the Parliament. The President of India can remove the other officers on the Chief Commissioner’s recommendation.

What is the role of the election commission of India?

The Election Commission of India (ECI) is a constitutional body responsible for administering elections that are conducted in  India according to the rules and regulations mentioned in the Constitution of India. It was established on January 25, 1950, with an aim to define and control the process for elections conducted at various levels: Parliament, State Legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice President of India. In other words, the ECI ensures the smooth and successful functioning of democracy.

The most crucial challenge for the Election Commission of India is to implement norms and the Model Code of Conduct to ensure free and fair elections in the country. Its existence and independence are necessitated by history, which has shown that democratic elections are not free from sabotage. In the end, it has been empowered to oversee political parties and candidates and take appropriate action in case of violations.

How TN Seshan reformed ECI

Some of the regulations made by him that are strict and helped make the electoral system transparent and fair are

  • No bribing or intimidating voters
  • No distribution of liquor during the elections
  • No use of official machinery for campaigning
  • No appealing to voters’ caste or communal feelings
  • No use of religious places for campaigns
  • No use of loudspeakers without prior written permission

During his tenure as the 10th Indian CEC, TN Seshan enforced the Model Code of Conduct for candidates and political parties. The model worked up ways to regulate ways of campaigning that left little to no space for malpractices, the regulations are

  • Monitored limits on poll expenses
  • Issues voter ids for eligible voters
  • Ban on wall graffiti

Very soon TN Seshan became a known name by the masses who hailed him for cracking a whip on several manipulative tactics. He said, “I had never conducted an election. I went with two principles that zero delays and zero deficiency.” He rightly followed through with both principles during his tenure. His strict policies gave him the title “Al Seshan.”

However, the same actions that garnered him praise from the citizens made him the most disliked CEC by most political leaders and parties. Under his watch, a serving Governor had to resign for campaigning for his son. Even the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary had to answer for publishing an advertisement in a newspaper at the cost of public exchequer.

Ex- election commission chief TN Seshan was criticized for allegedly to overstep his boundaries as the sitting CEC for recommending the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to sack two of his ministers- Sitaram Kesri and Kalpanath Rai. Seshan said that the two ministers had influenced the voters, however, PM Rao did not act on the suggestion.

In the 1994 elections, more than 20 cases were registered against candidates in Karnataka’s Gulbarga district for not filing daily expenditure reports. Another constituency saw the suspension of three officers for covertly aligning with candidates.

He also implicated Dry days six days before the elections in all states to curtail the manipulation and earning of favours from the voters.

In asserting the authority and independence of the Election Commission, Seshan often locked horns with India’s Supreme Court and has feuded bitterly with the country’s politicians, leading to more than one attempt to impeach him.”

Seshan in 1996 was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award for “his resolute actions to bring order, fairness, and integrity to elections in India, the largest democracy in the world.



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