CHENNAI: Former chief election commissioner T N Seshan, who gave the panel he headed its spine, passed away at his home here following age-related illness on Sunday. He was 86. A few relatives were present when the end came around 9.45 pm. The cremation is scheduled for Monday afternoon at the Besant Nagar crematorium. In his will, Seshan mentioned his desire to be cremated in Chennai and not in his native Palakkad, according to Mahesh, a close relative.
Till Seshan got to head the poll panel, it was considered just a powerless arm of the government. It was under his watch that the Election Commission became a truly independent Constitutional authority with vast powers to hold free and fair elections. His crackdown on electoral corruption gave him a huge fan following while making politicians wary.
He served as the 10th CEC of India between 1990 and 1996, with old-timers referring to this period as “the second golden age of electoral democracy”. An IAS officer of the 1955 batch, he served in various positions in Tamil Nadu and the Centre, including a stint as the collector of Madurai. He went on to become the Cabinet Secretary in 1989. He also served as a member of the Planning Commission and unsuccessfully contested the 1997 election for President of India.
Seshan enforced rules with authority
In the words of columnist TJS George, “Seshan showed what one man could do to ensure that democracy did not become a hydra-headed monster. In time Seshan retired. And the monster was set free.”
“All he did was to enforce the rules, but he did it with such authority and attention to detail that the electoral exercise in India became a marvelous spectacle that the world watched with awe,” George wrote.
The range of electoral reforms Seshan ushered in got him the Ramon Magsaysay Award for government service in 1996.
An alumnus of Madras Christian College (MCC) in Chennai, he graduated in 1952 and even taught at the institution for two years. A multi-dimensional personality with a wide range of interests, Seshan chaired Sankalp Beautiful World, an NGO providing care for cancer patients.
Seshan was an ardent devotee of Kanchi Seer Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswathi Swamigal, popularly known as Maha Periyava. When Maha Periyava passed away, Seshan played the role of a security guard at the Kanchi Mutt regulating the crowd.
In December 2018, although ailing, he wrote a column published in The New Indian Express on the Sabarimala issue in which he questioned the “fundamental basis of attempting to impose constitutional equality...”
Mahesh told Express on Sunday that he and his wife were with Seshan until 9 pm. At around 9.30 pm, Seshan's caretakers phoned them and informed that he was suffering from breathlessness. “When we reached, he was motionless. The doctor checked and confirmed at 9.45 pm that he had passed away,” Mahesh said.