Former Chief Election Commissioner Tirunellai Narayana Seshan, who had become an icon of Indian bureaucracy for ushering in tectonic reforms in the country’s electoral process during his tenure in the nineties, died of a cardiac arrest on Sunday in Chennai. He was 86.
A retired 1955 batch Indian Administrative Service officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, TN Seshan had led the Election Commission from 1990 to 1996. As the 10th Chief Election Commissioner of India, he is credited with flexing the poll body’s far-reaching constitutional powers to keep politicians in check.
However, seen as too much of a hurdle by the political class, it was during his tenure that two additional Election Commissioners were appointed by the centre to clip his wings.
He had received the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, considered Asia’s Nobel, for his initiatives in making the electoral process more transparent.
Born in 1932 in Kerala’s Palakkad district, the former bureaucrat had joined the civil services in 1955 and served as secretary of several departments in Tamil Nadu and at the centre during his decades-long career.
Before he was appointed as India’s chief election official, he was handpicked by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to be the Cabinet Secretary, the senior most position in the civil services.
In 1997, TN Seshan had unsuccessfully contested the Presidential election against KR Narayanan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined prominent figures on Twitter to mourn him.
Shri TN Seshan was an outstanding civil servant. He served India with utmost diligence and integrity. His efforts towards electoral reforms have made our democracy stronger and more participative. Pained by his demise. Om Shanti.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 10, 2019
Saddened to know about the demise of T.N. Seshan, a stalwart for free and fair elections. His legendary contribution to democracy will be always remembered. My condolences to his family and many admirers
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) November 10, 2019
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari called Mr Seshan a true legend.
Saddened by the demise of Shri TN Seshan. He was a true legend.
His contribution towards election reforms will be the guiding light for years to come. My deepest condolences. Om Shanti!
— Nitin Gadkari (@nitin_gadkari) November 10, 2019
Union Home Minister Amit Shah said TN Seshan played a transformative role in reforming and strengthening India’s electoral institution.
Saddened by the demise of former Chief Election Commissioner, Shri T N Seshan ji. He played a transformative role in reforming and strengthening India’s electoral institution. The nation will always remember him as a true torchbearer of democracy. My prayers are with his family.
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) November 10, 2019
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said Mr Seshan was a pillar of India’s democracy.
“Sad that former Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan has passed away in Chennai. He was my father’s classmate at Victoria College, Palakkad. A courageous and crusty boss who asserted the Election Commission’s autonomy and authority as no CEC before him had done. A pillar of our democracy,” he tweeted.
TN Seshan’s last rites are likely to be performed on Monday, the family members said.
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