Who was TN Seshan who SC said "happens once in a while"
New Delhi, Nov 24: The Supreme Court has said that the Constitution has vested enormous powers on the "fragile shoulder" of the Chief Election Commissioner and the two Election Commissioners and it wants a CEC of strong character like late TN Seshan. A five-judge Constitution bench, headed by Justice K M Joseph, said its endeavour is to put a system in place so that the "best man" is selected as the CEC.
"There have been numerous CECs and T N Seshan happens once in a while. We do not want anyone to bulldoze him. Enormous power has been vested on the fragile shoulder of three men (two ECs and the CEC). We have to find the best man for the post of CEC. The question is how do we find that best man and how to appoint that best man," PTI quoted the bench, also comprising justices Ajay Rastogi, Aniruddha Bose, Hrishikesh Roy and C T Ravikumar, as saying.
So, who was TN Seshan?
Seshan was a former cabinet secretary to the Union government and was appointed as the election commissioner (EC) on 12 December 1990 with a tenure till 11 December 1996. He completed his six-year tenure and died on 10 November 2019.
Well, if he was just an election commissioner, probably the court or the people might not have remembered him much, but he was a person who showcased the real power of the Election Commission.
A 1955 batch IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, he was a ruthless officer who was most feared by the politicians. He was known for cleaning up the election process in the six years that he was the head of the poll body by bringing several reforms.
How he brought reforms to EC
He effectively implemented model code of conduct for the first time for elections in the country, slapped cases for violations and arrested candidates for breaking the poll rules. Also, he suspended EC officials for failing to fulfil their duty. "He was the first CEC to actually implement the model code of conduct and rule of law. Before him, election commissioners were happy to just announce election results," former CEC HS Brahma was quoted as saying by The Print.
In one incident that raised eyebrows in political fraternity, he had advised the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao to remove two ministers (minister Sitaram Kesari and food minister Kalpnath Rai) for influencing voters. Similarly, he had cancelled the results of five constituencies in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for alleged rigging in 1991. He had created controversy in the same year for rescheduling the poll dates following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Seshan is also credited for the introduction of electors' photo identity cards and listing 150 malpractices during polls, including distribution of liquor, no bribing or intimidating voters, ban on writing on walls, use of religion in election speeches, etc.
His ruthless attitude often irked politicians. In fact on one occasion, late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa described him as an "embodiment of arrogance."
An important change that the EC underwent during his tenure was that the Commission was made a multi-member body with the appointment of MS Gill and GVG Krishnamurty. Seshan had opposed the move as he felt the government was trying to clip his wings, but Supreme Court upheld the government's decision to appoint Election Commissioners.
Former CEC TS Krishna Murthy, in his 'Miracle of Democracy: India's Amazing Journey', said that Seshan's tenure was a "turning point" in the history of the ECI. "If the history of Election Commission is written, it has to be divided into two parts - pre-Seshan era where the Commission functioned as a department of the government and the post-Seshan era when the Commission became more independent," he pointed out.
After the completion of his tenure, he unsuccessfully contested the Presidential elections against KR Narayanan in 1997. Two years later, he contested the Lok Sabha polls from Congress ticket against LK Advani from Gandhinagar constituency.