T.N. Seshan, former Chief Election Commissioner of India
The 10th Chief Election Commissioner of India, T.N. Seshan served in office between December 1990 and December 1996. Born in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, he is known for his introduction of many electoral reforms and his uprightness. Though he has become rather more optimistic now, he has famously stated about India:
“Make up a list of 200 political leaders of the central government, the national parliament and the state parliaments. Are you able to find one single person on this list to whom you can go for help? Obviously not. The politicians of today are as pygmies masquerading as Titans. They are like small children who try to walk in the shoes of their grandparents, and who sooner or later will stumble and fall.”
and “Today it can seem that honesty and integrity are banned from public life. The situation makes me think of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who used to go around with his lamp alight at the height of day in the hope of finding an honest person.”
In the highly informative and well-balanced Norwegian book ‘India, Stevnemøte med Skjebnen’ (i.e.’India, Encounter with Fate’) by Thorbjørn Færøvik (Oslo, 1999) the author interviewed the renowned former Chief Election Commissioner, T.N. Seshan. The author wrote of the Indian election system “… a peaceful election is not necessarily a just election. Accusations thunder in the newspapers and few use tougher words that T.N. Seshan, who led the election commission in the 1980s: “Once more we have witnessed a farce. Millions of analphabetics have given their vote without knowing who or what they voted for. Bribes have flourished and now – in the aftermath of the election – we see that gangsters and criminals have been elected to parliamentary bodies throughout the country.”
Færøvik points out, correctly, that T.N. Seshan has repeatedly warned about what he refers to as the criminalization of politics and – where not illegal – to the universal political apathy. “Make up a list of 200 political leaders of the central government, the national parliament and the state parliaments. Are you able to find one single person on this list to whom you can go for help? Obviously not. The politicians of today are as pygmies masquerading as Titans. They are like small children who try to walk in the shoes of their grandparents, and who sooner or later will stumble and fall.”
T.N. Seshan is also extremely negative about Indian courts, as most ordinary Indians are also known to be. An opinion survey made by the Times of India showed 80% of Indians answered that they regarded judges and lawyers as corrupt. In 1947, India took over a judiciary based on British traditions which honourable and impartial. Today it is chronically understaffed and has lost the trust of the public. In 1998 as many as 23 million cases awaited court process, two million in the higher courts and 21 million in the lower courts. In the High Court, 66,000 cases were in the queue and 10,000 of them had laid there for 10 years or more.
Færøvik also writes that it is ordinary people without the finances to buy themselves a place further ahead in the queue who are hit the hardest. The examples are as many as they are grotesque. Times of India mentioned one of many grotesque examples: A woman in the town of Lucknow went to court in 1948 for a divorce. The verdict fell exactly 40 years later: the woman received a divorce. In the mean time both the woman, her husband and parents-in-law had left this world. Those with fat bank accounts often get suspiciously rapid treatment.
Read: The degeneration of India : T.N. Seshan with Sanjoy Hazarika Study in post-independence political and administrative realities.[ New Delhi, India ; New York : Viking, 1995.]
Amusing – if often depressing- quotations from T.N. Seshan:
On the Indian education scenario —
“Operation successful; Patient dead!” (2001). “Some universities are called deemed because the others are doomed and some are called open because the others are closed!”
Excerpts from an interview with Seshan:-
Question. What prevented you from ‘yielding’ in your career as a bureaucrat?
Seshan : Five days after joining my first posting as a sub-collector of Dindigul, I was traveling with the minister in his car, and was dropped off in the middle of the road – where I stood for 100 minutes, when it was 45C. All this because the village officer I took action against was the husband of the Tehsil Officer, who belonged to the Congress party.
35 years later, I was transferred from my post of Cabinet Secretary in charge of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s personal security, to the unnecessary 12th man in Hegde’s Planning Commission team.
My 6 years as CEC have been the toughest times of my life. Narasimha Rao when he was PM offered me the post of governor, and then, ambassador. But I have resisted temptation. I read the Gita everyday.
I scored 452/600 in my final exam. The boy who scored 451, 1 mark less than me, is now a station master. I had 100% marks in Physics, Chemistry and Maths. Yet, in my Engineering College Admission Interview, I was not selected because I could not name the first movie of Shivaji Ganesan.http://www.iimcal.ac.in/imz/archive/imz-archive/article.asp?id=Seshan————-
The Rediff Interview/Former Chief Election Comissioner T N Seshan:-
When I spoke to T N Seshan, the former chief election commissioner, in 1998, he was very cynical about India. Almost a decade later, as we prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of India’s Independence, I found Seshan, the man credited with cleaning up the Indian election system, optimistic and upbeat. He spoke at length about terrorism, reservations and the quality of India’s political system:-
“There are still corrections to be made; there are still changes to be made. In many areas, we have not done what we should have been doing in the last 8 to 10 years.”
T.N. Seshan: “Like, for example, we lost ten valuable years in making sure that all children get education. Mr (President A P J) Kalam has been speaking about it; the others have been speaking about it. There is nothing more important than all children being in school as is promised by the Constitution. We have not done that.
From a completely different angle, we should have learnt to conduct our business particularly in the assemblies and legislatures in a far more disciplined fashion than we do. Yes, in every country, there is a lot of noise made in the parliaments and assemblies but sometimes business is transacted. I don’t know whether we could not transact more business than we are currently doing in the parliament and assemblies.
The progress made in the clearance of arrears in court cases is completely unsatisfactory.
Our inability to settle outstanding social and political issues by discussion and negotiation — rather than by violence and demonstration — is unfortunate.
We have not put in place an agency to combat the growing menace of terrorism and Naxalism.”
Interviewer: “Ten years ago, anybody who had an IIT degree collected his degree and went away to America. Today, they are working all over the place; and they are doing fantastically well. You told me then that a change in the attitude of the people to the country would take place through either a social revolution or a technological revolution.”
T.N. Seshan: “Yes. Both are happening now. Everybody knows about the technological revolution. It has made them more self-confident. The young people of 2006 are far more confident than the young people of 1996. ”
Interviewer: Is it not the politicians who are dividing people in the name of religion just to get votes?
T.N. Seshan: Yes, it is. It is very easy to feed poison but it not easy to feed good things. So, the politicians are feeding poison.
Interviewer: When the police question the suspects, politicians jump in and say they are targeting the minority community. Are they not giving religious colour to terrorism and not allowing the law to act?
T.N. Seshan: Yes, they are doing that which is all wrong. The highest courts have gone into the evidence and said that Mr X was the person responsible for the Parliament attack and he should be hanged. Then, there are demonstrations in Srinagar. Politics unfortunately plays on the sentiments and emotions of people.
Q. Do you vote?
Seshan : No I don’t. Because democracy is dead. But yet there is hope.
Q. What do you think about the situation in Tamil Nadu?
Seshan : Pathetic. Whichever way you look at it.
Q. Why did you contest for the Presidency, knowing fully well that you couldn’t succeed?
Seshan : When I was in elementary school, I had zero sporting ability. I still contested the High Jump.
Q. Mr. Seshan, you said that when you were Cabinet Secretary in charge of Mr. Gandhi’s personal security, you were transferred because you did not yield. Would it not have been better for the country, if you HAD yielded?
Seshan : See, there was no question of yielding. They just weren’t happy with my performance. But you won’t believe the kind of precautions we took to protect Rajiv Gandhi’s life. We used to buy oranges from 10 shops, atta from 12 shops, we rewired the entire house so even 2000V couldn’t break down the switches, we relaid the water lines, welded the sewage lines with wire mesh so no one could enter that way. And at the end of it, they felt I didn’t do my job.
There was a day when I was transferred SIX times between 10 am and 6 pm. From Rural Development, to Finance, to Small Savings, to Agriculture, to Harijan Welfare, to Backward Classes and finally to Women’s Development. Once a minister transferred me from Industry to Agriculture, purely because he wanted to shift me from the 10th to the 1st floor. So I went to him and said, ‘Why don’t you shift me to the ground floor?’ He was appalled. But the ground floor is the car park, Seshan!`: I said, ‘Does it matter? I could look after the car park you know’.
Q. Mr. Seshan, all the IAS officers, like you, are educated people of similar caliber. Then how do they become bad?
Seshan : Try putting one rotten orange in a basket of good oranges. That’s what has happened to our system. But the entire basket is not bad yet. What we can do is separate the not-so-bad oranges.
Q. When the majority is wrong, isn’t it time for a minority? Don’t you think dictatorship is the only solution to India?
Seshan : The majority is not wrong! It’s only the minority of people that are corrupt, have no ethics and are spoiling the system. Democracy cannot be replaced – that’s a universal truth.
Q. You said Dharma is essential for a country to grow. There is no Dharma in the US. Then how have they prospered?
Seshan : Who said there is no Dharma in the US? It’s very much there! Their Dharma is the supreme respect for the ‘Rule of Law’ and ‘Punishment of the Evildoer.’