Former chief election commissioner TN Seshan died in Chennai on Sunday following a cardiac arrest.
Honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service in 1996 and former Cabinet Secretary of India, Seshan will always be remembered for reforming the elections, taking strict and pro-active steps to end electoral malpractices and redefining the visibility of the Election Commission. He was the Chief Election Commissioner from 12 December 1990 to 11 December 1996.
I was covering for The Hindu the 1993 Madhya Pradesh Assembly election that were being held after one year of President’s Rule that had been imposed in Madhya Pradesh following the dismissal of the Sunderlal Patwa led State BJP Government in the wake of the post Ayodhya riots. Election Coverage took me to Rewa, where the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao had come to address an election rally.
Reaching Rewa after a tiring road journey in the afternoon, one drove straight to the Circuit House to avail the room facility to freshen up and be on the job. The PM’s rally was scheduled later that afternoon. On landing there one was told by the person in-charge that the PM would be staying at the Police officers Mess but as standby two rooms had been specially upgraded and kept reserved for him. Another room was reserved for senior Congress leader Shyama Charan Shukla and hence there was no question of allowing me entry into any of the rooms.
Flustered by the treatment, one straightaway drove to the Collectorate, where one got the chance to meet the additional Collector. When he was asked for a room at the Circuit House, he dismissed the request saying it was not possible. On being told that the district administration was supposed to cooperate with media-persons covering the general election to the State Assembly and there were firm instructions from the Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan in this regard, the officer shrugged his shoulder and dismissed me in a hurry saying allotting a room was out of question. I was prompt in telling him that I would be sending a fax to the Chief Election Commissioner and reporting that he was not cooperating with the national press. The officer, in a brazen manner, said that I was free to do whatever…. At this I took a you-turn and left his room. Before I got into my car, an attendant came running towards me. He told me that he had been asked to convey by the officer that I could return to the Circuit House where instructions were being passed to open a room for me.
This was the Seshan Effect that many of his unworthy successors have allowed to dilute over the years.