hirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan, TN Seshan has probably left behind a record worth emulating for other bureaucrats. What Seshan did as the Chief Election Commissioner of the country was unprecedented and it remains unsurpassed. His was perhaps the most visible bureaucratic position of that time and brought tangible change to how elections were held in this country. From introducing the voters’ identity card to bringing strict curbs on election expenditure and display of publicity materials, Seshan drew a line that leaders across party lines had to toe. Seshan’s six-year tenure as the CEC was perhaps what made the legislature realise the potential for its interests being undermined if someone with personal interest was placed in a position of power that is relatively insulated from the influence of common sense and needs to be answerable to the public. As is usual with the Indian public, Seshan was highly acclaimed by many who thought that he was the Messiah that India needed to rid itself from the scourge of the politician.
Seshan showed what a civil services official could do if given the absolute power and freedom without any responsibility. There were instances of officials who had been at the receiving end of Seshan’s ire recalling him to have been ‘cuddly like a poodle’ before superiors. One has been reported to have likened him to a portly peon ‘opening and closing doors’ for then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, during his tenure as secretary (Internal Security). Seshan’s attitude transformed when he realised that he was on a constitutional post and could get away with anything. He was certainly safe for six years and he was answerable to none. He crossed swords with many political leaders, including the late J Jayalalithaa for no apparent reason but kept his own interests deeply hidden from all.
The times have changed very much, though, since Seshan was touted as a trail blazer. One huge factor is that almost every bureaucratic position today has risen to unprecedented levels. Starting from the PMO to all the CMOs across the country, all have understood the power of the average bureaucrat. The dependence of politicians today on officers manning high posts is kind of absolute and unquestioned. So much so that even political henchmen are being appointed by the bosses as Joint Secretaries or to some such posts to give credence to political acts committed through official sounding nomenclatures.
But yes, TN Seshan was a trail blazer of sorts. He was a man with a mission. A mission to enter politics and adorn a high, very high, political seat. All that time that he was playing the stern no-nonsense bureaucrat, no one could have guessed his true intentions. The instance that let the cat out of the bag was not very delayed. Immediately after retirement, in 1997, Seshan ran for the post of President of the Republic of India against KR Narayanan and promptly lost. Then again in 1999, he contested against LK Advani of the BJP from Gandhinagar on a Congress ticket. That too he lost miserably. These two events exposed the man that he truly was. Apart from this, the fact that his idea of a Voter’s ID Card never really was worth its weight in salt was obvious when he, soon after implementing it, himself announced that people could vote without it in 1995 elections. After his insincerity was out in the open, that Card became redundant and has remained so till today.
One may also recollect that he was instrumental in delaying a whole set of elections to the Lok Sabha in 1991 soon after Rajiv Gandhi, not the Prime Minister at that time, was killed in a bomb blast in Tamil Nadu. The Prime Minister at that time was Chandra Shekhar, who had never been able to prove his majority on the floor and, therefore, was weak and feeble. Seshan took full advantage of his position to benefit the Congress in that election. Again, Seshan made the District Magistrates and the Sub Collectors of Parliamentary and Legislative Assembly seats respectively the final authority in matters concerning voting, counting and everything related with that process. Eventually that gave a chance to crooked officers to play games and dictate terms to people’s representatives. Thus, he single-handedly dealt the first deadly blow to India’s democratic fabric. That has continued till date and we can now see how things are turning out so very perverted.
May his soul rest in peace.