TN Seshan and his role at Election Commission of India

India was under the foreign rule for over three decades. Freedom fighters all over the nation dedicated their lives to free India. After a long and arduous journey of these great men towards freedom, India was finally declared as a free nation in 15th August 1947. This was the starting point of democracy in Indian history. The word democracy means people rule. U.S President Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”. India being a very large country needs an effective governing body to confirm the freedom of every citizen. The constitution of India was drafted by leaders of our nation to establish and ensure democracy. The Constitution of India defines the fundamental political policies, establishes the structure, powers and duties of the government institution and highlights the fundamental rights and duties of every Indian citizen.

The Republic of India consists of 29 states and 7 Union Territories. India is one of the largest parliamentary democracy. The government of India also known as Union government or Central government was established by the Constitution of India. It is the governing authority of the Republic of India. Indian Parliament, a bicameral legislature consists of the President and two Houses

  • Rajya Sabha or Council of State
  • Lok Sabha or House of the People

Rajya Sabha is the upper house. It consists of members  appointed by the President and elected by the state legislatures. Lok Sabha consists of members elected by the people.

Election Commission Of India

The Election Commission of India has 2 Election Commissioners and 1 Chief Election Commissioners

The Election Commission of India is an autonomous and constitutionally established authority to conduct free and fair elections. There is an Election Commission at state level and national level. The Election Commission has complete power to control all elections to the Parliament of India, to the state legislatures, to the office of the President and Vice-President. To understand how the Election Commission works, click here.

The Chief Election Commissioner heads the election commission of India.The chief election commissioner is a member of the Indian Civil Service (ICS). The chief election commissioner was yet another post but it gained the attention of the people during the tenure of T.N. Seshan from 1990-1996. Tirunellai Narayanaiyer Seshan is revered for his stint as the Chief Election Commissioner for his honesty and his efforts to put an end to corruption during the election process.

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Chief Election Commissioner T.N.Seshan

The Harvard educated IAS officer was appointed as the Chief Election Commissioner on 12 December, 1990. His six-year tenure as the chief election commissioner is regarded as the turning point in the electoral process of India. As the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr.Seshan worked towards perfecting the election process and making it corruption free. He formulated various reforms and used the powers entitled to him in an honest and efficient manner to conduct fair elections in India. He was know for his unsparing nature and his one liners.

Reform Initiatives By T.N. Seshan

His reform initiatives can be grouped into the following categories as stated in his biography.

  1. Insuring the autonomy and integrity of the Election Commission
  2. Empowering the voters
  3. Reforming or changing electoral procedures
  4. Changing the election laws

Elections in India involves running 850,000 voting booths for which around 5 million personnel are required. A large security force is also required. This demand is met by employing temporary state employees to the election commission. But Mr.Seshan noticed that these employees took their job lightly and were not performing well. So, he began to investigate this issue. When the state officials opposed him, he advocated that once these candidates are appointed they fall directly under his jurisdiction and they have to obey the directives of the Election Commission. He ensured that these candidates perform their duties in honest and  sincere manner.

During his tenure as the Chief Election Commissioner, Mr. Seshan reviewed more than forty thousand cases of false election and disqualified around fourteen thousand candidates for public offence. He resolved one of the high-profile case involving Subramanian Swami and the Janata Party in one hearing while his predecessor held multiple hearings, made 1600 pages of notes and did not take any decision. He did not give in to any demands of politicians. To curtain Mr.Seshan’s power, Parliament amended the Constitution and added two commissioners to share power with him.

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Mr. Seshan made great efforts to create awareness about Voter’s rights and organised National Voter Awareness Campaign. He toured all over the nation to campaign against electoral corruption. He educated voters to guard their freedom and to help fairness in election by choosing their leader wisely. Publications were circulated among voters regarding their rights and duties and the role of every voter to stand against corruption and to establish democracy.

To avoid voter impersonation, Mr. Seshan called for the government to issue Voter ID Card with photo identification to all eligible citizens. But this was opposed by politicians claiming that it is expensive. After waiting for eighteen long months, he announced that if the identification cards were not issued, no elections will be held. He postponed a number of elections as identification cards were not issued. The Supreme Court intervened and ordered that elections must be held as voting is the inherent right of every citizen.Eventually, the government began to issue identification cards and by the end of 1996, over 2 million citizens possessed Voter Identification Card.

In order to ensure that the candidates do not over spend, Mr. Seshan implemented Section 77 of the Representation of People Act of 1951. According to this act, candidates contesting in elections must keep an accurate account of their expenses. He ensured that

  • All expenses were accurately accounted for
  • The accounts must be filed also with an affidavit of oath
  • The accounts must be certified by the district election officer.

He set the spending limits for election campaign as 1,50,000 to 1,70,000 rupees for Parliament seats and 20,000 to 40,000 rupees for Assembly seats. During 1993 election, he monitored the entire election process round the clock from the control room and assigned officers for every state. He banned election graffiti and displays. He ordered that all defaced walls must be cleaned by the candidates. He also put an end to noisy convoys and loudspeakers and posters on public and private properties.These reforms resulted in noiseless, less money involved, disciplined and fair elections. He was awarded Ramon Magsaysay Award for his outstanding contribution towards establishing democracy in India. Thus Mr.Seshan laid the strong foundation for effective governance in India. He set the right path for functioning of the election commission of India.

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Now the election commission of India has taken the help of technology to maintain integrity and fairness in election process and to ensure maximum vote turnout. The old paper ballot system has been replaced by Electronic Voting Machines or EVM. In 2004 election, electronic voting system was implemented for voting process. As soon as the last vote is cast, the polling officer in charge of the polling booth presses the Close button. Thus the EVM does not accept any further votes. The result button is used to display the result. This reduces the time for casting vote and declaration of results.But due to tampering issues and security problems, the election commission of India decided Electronic Voting System or EVM with Voter-Verified paper audit trail. The Voter-Verified paper audit trail method provides feedback to the voter through a ballot less system. This will help the voter to ensure whether the vote has been cast correctly and help to detect election fraud and malfunction. This system has been introduced in 8 out of 543 constituencies during 2014 election as a pilot project.

The Chief Election Commission has set up an official website (along with individual websites for each of the State Election Commissioners) which is easily accessible and is updated frequently. All voting related tasks can be performed on these websites. Services like online application for Voter ID card , changing Voter’s information, applying for duplicate Voter ID card and several other Voter ID Card and Voters List related tasks can now be done on these websites.

Kiruba Shankar, a celebrated speaker and podcaster interviewed T.N Seshan a year ago. Here are some of the pictures from the same:

  1. Pictures – Part 1
  2. Pictures – Part 2

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  1. What powers does the election commission of india have?

    To understand what a true fearless and forthwrite Election Commissioner should do and his responsibilities and duties, one must simply study the contribution of TN Seshan. His contributions to Election Commission and the Indian Elections in general wil…

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