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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: EC gag order brings back memories of tough former CEC Seshan

The 10th chief election commissioner (CEC) of India TN Seshan (1990-96) stamped the Commission’s authority and ensured his words were treated as law by politicians and officers alike.

lok sabha elections Updated: Apr 17, 2019 09:58 IST
Umesh Raghuvanshi
Umesh Raghuvanshi
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
election commission,TN Seshan,EC powers
A file photo of former chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan announcing the poll programme for the Lok Sabha election, April 12, 1991. (HT Archive )

A day after the Election Commission of India temporarily barred four leaders -- UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Union minister Maneka Gandhi, BSP chief Mayawati and SP leader Azam Khan -- from campaigning for violating model code of conduct, the focus is back on the powers that the Commission enjoys to ensure free and fair polls.

The observations made by the representative of the Election Commission that “we found we have powers”, made in the Supreme Court, have become a point of discussion with many officers who recalled how the 10th chief election commissioner (CEC) of India TN Seshan (1990-96) stamped the Commission’s authority and ensured his words were treated as law by politicians and officers alike.

“TN Seshan established the EC’s authority. As CEC, he came on a visit to review preparations for elections in the early nineties. When the then UP chief electoral officer (CEO) Shaival Kumar Mukerjee presented his report, Sheshan said the report was not even worth using as a toilet paper. After this, Seshan de-notified the CEO,” recalled former chief secretary Alok Ranjan.

Read | Violations pile up a day after EC gag on leaders

Remembering a meeting of district magistrates that Seshan had convened in New Delhi, Ranjan said: “I led a team of 10 district magistrates from Uttar Pradesh. A DM from Himachal Pradesh reached there three minutes late and apologised. Seshan asked him to leave immediately. At one point, Seshan turned to UP team and asked us to ensure that the chief minister follows the MCC in letter and spirit or else the Commission would ensure this.”

Another former bureaucrat Surya Pratap Singh recollected how on Seshan’s directives, he refused to allow landing of the then chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s helicopter in Badaun.

“Mulayam was scheduled to address a public meeting in Badaun but the MCC had come into force a day prior to it. This was the beginning of Seshan era. I enquired from the ECI whether to allow him to land in a government helicopter and I got a ‘no’ in reply. Following the directive, I did not allow the CM’s helicopter to land. The chopper was diverted to Moradabad where it finally landed. Mulayam was furious but I did my duty,” said Singh.

Another retired officer, who did not wish to be named, said it was Seshan who made the EC a tough institution.

“Politicians always want that they should be allowed to do whatever they like to win an election. Though the ECI has limited powers, Seshan showed the way the elections should be conducted. Sheshan made it simple,” the officer said.

“EC has the power to defer or countermand an election. If a candidate defies the ECI’s writ, a simple notice of why the polling in his/her constituency may not be deferred serves as a deterrent. If the election has been held and the CEC comes to know of irregularities, it has the power to countermand the election,” he added.

“The EC has acted against star campaigners but a short-term ban will serve no purpose. The ban should be imposed for a longer duration,” he said, adding that Seshan ensured action against all the errant authorities, including governors of states.

‘Merciless Seshan’

TN Seshan, IAS topper of 1955 batch, became Election Commissioner of India in December 1990. He was known for his big stick that motivates the election staff to implement election manual and forced politicians to adhere to poll code.

Once, a returning officer in Uttar Pradesh had said, “We are at the mercy of a merciless person.” As per the government record, during his tenure, the booth capturing incidents decreased to 255 in 1993 from 873 in 1991.

Known as the father of election reforms in India, Seshan took politicians flouting poll code head on. In Uttar Pradesh, one of the big catch was then governor Motilal Vora. He was, however, cleared after an EC inquiry into allegations of misconduct in his son’s constituency in Madhya Pradesh’s Durg, now in Chhattisgarh.

Another was Uttar Pradesh MP and minister of state for food and civil supplies Kalpnath Rai. He was campaigning for his nephew in November 1994 in Ghazipur. The minister was interrupted during his address by district magistrate and cautioned him to wind up the campaign citing time restriction. He was even cautioned to countermand the polls. Rai later threatened to go on hunger strike.

Also Read | Mayawati rushes to Supreme Court against EC’s campaign ban, gets no reprieve

First Published: Apr 17, 2019 09:58 IST