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ET EDIT-T N Seshan Showed Change is Possible

November 12, 2019 06:44 AM


T N Seshan was an unremarkable, even if intelligent, civil servant till he was made the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). He was not obdurate, irascible or given to bullheaded insistence on rules — traits that he showed off to awesome effect as CEC. Indeed, a story goes that he turned down, as secretary for one ministry, the request he had sent to that ministry earlier as secretary of another ministry, showing greater allegiance to the requirement of the ministry he held charge for, rather than of the objective merits of the demand. He went on to become Cabinet Secretary and Planning Commission member. But what made Seshan the Seshan posterity remembers, with thanks, was his role as CEC, which post he occupied for six years.

No CEC before him had shown the temerity to anoint the Constitution and the rules flowing from the relevant laws based on the Constitution as his sole master and authority. Seshan brooked no political interference. It helped that the prime minister for much of his term was P V Narasimha Rao, who headed a minority government initially and commanded a tenuous majority thereafter and was in no position to throw around the power of the imperious executive head. During his time in office, Seshan built up the institution of the CEC and established practices that continue to this day. The code of conduct during election, voter ID cards for all eligible voters, limits on poll expenditure, deploying in an election-bound state election officials from another state and strict enforcement of election-related laws.

The point about Seshan is that he demonstrated that one determined individual could fully articulate the innate, albeit hidden and unused, strength of an institution to benefit democracy. The lesson remains valid. Institutions still remain whose innate potential for good wait to be fully tapped.

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