The dimming torch of democracy
The Indian democracy rests on the ideals of its founding fathers which are enshrined in the Constitution and it serves as a guiding star for the nation on its path to greater development and prosperity. And what drives the nation in the direction of its aspirations is the institutions of democracy and those invested with the responsibility of fulfilling the duties that are dispensed by means of these institutions. The Election Commission of India is one such institution which upholds necessity of regular elections and safeguards the process of it for the renewal of a healthy democracy. But an institution by itself cannot ensure and accomplish much but for the individuals that in charge of its best performance. Former Election Commissioner TN Seshan is immortal for the standards he set during his stint at this office and credited with electoral reforms in the Election Commission. At 86, he departed for his heavenly abode from Chennai. He remains the epitome of power devoted to duty before everything else, notwithstanding the incessant pressure from political lords, for initiating impartial and formidable reforms in the Election Commission—the body which has come to acquire a rather feeble stature in the wake of general elections of 2019. Among the most remarkable accomplishments of Mr Seshan was the ruthless enforcement the model code of conduct much to the
chagrin of political parties and which brought about the game-changing electoral reforms in the 1990s. Born on December 15, 1932 in Thirunellai, Palakkad district of Kerala, Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan served with the Indian Administrative Service of 1955 batch. and went on to be appointed as the 18th Cabinet Secretary of India in 1989. He served as the 10th Chief Election Commissioner of India form 1990–96 and was given the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service in 1996. There was a time when political parties ferrying people to polling stations was considered a "normal" practice but things changed after Seshan became the CEC (Chief Election Commissioner) and it was during his stint as CEC model code became sacrosanct. He ensured that bogus voting was curbed to a large extent. His initiatives were reforms that were unheard of before 1990. Credited with cleaning up India's electoral system, he was as much at the receiving end of the wrath of politicians including none other than late AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa who had once hit out at him for being "arrogant."
TN Seshan has a special place in India's electoral history as he made the Election Commission a powerful entity while still being within the existing laws. The dreaded ECE set the example of what a CEC should be and how the ECI can be a formidable entity. Supreme Court, too, once told the Commission to aspire for the kind of credibility it enjoyed during Seshan's days. The Civil Services Examination topper of the 1955 batch, he had once told an interviewer that "I had never conducted an election. I went with two principles: zero delay and zero deficiency." And he is remembered for following both throughout his tenure. With the powers invested in him as the CEC, he implemented the election manual in letter and spirit. His strict policies even got him to be called "Al Seshan." Apart from the implementation of model code of conduct, Mr Seshan's landmark accomplishments include introduction of voter ID cards, enforcing limits on poll expenses, and elimination of rampant normalised malpractices such as distribution of liquor and bribing voters, ban on writing on wall, use of loud speakers, and use of religion in election speeches, among several others. He is also credited with the introduction of election observers and he forced the candidates to keep accurate accounts of campaign expenses. Of the many bold measures he took, it is looked upon with great respect that once under his strict watch, a serving Governor who campaigned for his son had to resign. The Chief Secretary of UP was taken to task for issuing an advertisement in a newspaper at the cost of public exchequer. He even recommended to Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to sack two of his ministers for allegedly influencing the voters (but to no effect). His reputation was such that in 1992, the Left parties even called for his impeachment. Times and situation are very different today. The Lok Sabha election of 2019 in May had caused the Election Commission to come under the scanner as it drew severe criticism for lapse in checking violations of the model code of conduct to unforeseen extents. TN Seshan brought to highlight the powers of this institution including that to curb the powers of money and muscle. As unfortunate as things could be, an Election Commissioner who dissented with poll code decisions is under the scanner for any alleged misconduct in a previous stint. Power can bring a lot of changes, bit whether these are productive changes or not depends on the power-bearer. Mr Seshan has left behind a valuable legacy with respect to the autonomy of institutions and powers invested in officers to bring in positive changes and uproot malpractices for good.