Former Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan passes away at 86

Chennai, Nov 11 (IANS): Former Election Commissioner T N Seshan, who was known for strict implementation of electoral laws and rules to clean up Indian elections, passed away at his residence here on Sunday following cardiac arrest, family sources said. He was 86.

An 1955 cadre Tamil Nadu IAS officer who rose to become Cabinet Secretary, Seshan became the 10th Chief Election Commissioner of India after retirement, serving from December 12, 1990 to December 11, 1996.

Known for strictly enforcing Model Code of Conduct, Seshan instilled fear in politicians fighting elections by strictly implementing the Model Code of Conduct and other poll related rules and taking stern action against anyone who tried to flout its provisions.

Born on December 15, 1932 in Palakkad district - in what is now Kerala, he did his education up to intermediate level there. He graduated from Madras Christian College in Physics, and then got into the IAS. He later studied at Harvard University from where he got his master's degree in public administration.

In 1989 he became the 18th Cabinet Secretary of India, the senior most position in the Indian civil service hierarchy, and Member, Planning Commission of India, before being appointed the CEC, where he is best remembered as the man who cleaned up elections in India.

Seshan's reforms focussed in ending malpractices like "booth-capturing" and bribery of voters, and strict adherence of laws and rules.

In one case, polling was suspended in a Madhya Pradesh constituency where a serving Governor campaigned for his son, ultimately leading to his resignation, while in Uttar Pradesh, a minister was forced to quit the dais at a rally as the campaign period had just ended.

Seshan was also known for holding regular press conferences, where his one-liners were eagerly awaited.

He was conferred the Magsaysay Prize for Public Service in 1996.

Seshan also contested the presidential election in 1997 but lost to K.R. Narayanan. He also made a foray into electoral politics in the 1999 elections, contesting on a Congress ticket from Gandhinagar against BJP stalwart L.K. Advani but came runners-up.

A no-nonsense man, TN Seshan cleaned up India's electoral system  - Obituary 

T.N. Seshan brought back faith in the Indian electoral system at a time when Indian elections were synonymous with booth rigging and misuse of government machinery.

The no-nonsense Seshan, an IAS officer of 1955 batch from Tamil Nadu cadre, managed to stamp his authority on the country's electoral system during his term as the country's 10th Chief Election Commissioner from 1990 to 1996.

His strict commandments were: no bribing or intimidating voters, no distribution of liquor during the elections, no use of official machinery for campaigning, no appealing to voters' caste or communal feelings, no use of religious places for campaigns and no use of loudspeakers without prior written permission.

He also enforced the Model Code of Conduct, strictly monitored limits on poll expenses, and cracked down on several malpractices like wall graffiti. The issuance of Voter IDs for all eligible voters came into being under his strict watch.

While he endeared himself to the citizens by cleaning up the elections of the blatant manipulative tactics employed by political leaders, in the process he also ended up offending politicians with his iron-clad instructions.

Appointed by Prime Minister Chandrashekhar as the Chief Election Commissioner of India, Seshan would always be remembered as a shining example of what a CEC should be.

He had earlier served as the 18th Cabinet Secretary of India in 1989. In 1996, he won the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Seshan even contested for the post of President of India in 1997 and lost to K.R. Narayanan.

Born on December 15, 1932 in Palakkad, in then Madras Presidency, now in Kerala, his full name was Tirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan.

Seshan, who passed away on Sunday, at the age of 86 at his residence in Chennai, had once told an interviewer. "I had never conducted an election. I went with two principles: zero delay and zero deficiency."

His wielding the big stick worked. In the 1994 elections, in Karnataka's Gulbarga district, more than 20 cases were registered against candidates for not filing daily expenditure reports.

In another place, three officers were suspended for covertly aligning with candidates. In all constituencies, candidates had to furnish lists of vehicles used for electioneering and the returning officers had to check the meter readings to tally these with the daily expenditure statements.

He would stagger the voting to deploy additional forces which reduced the risks of booth capturing and violence near polling booths.

Under his strict watch, in the 1993 elections, in Uttar Pradesh, booth capturing count fell to 255 - from 873 in 1991. The number of polling day killings also fell from 36 to three. The number of constituencies in which polling had to be suspended or deferred, also dipped to three compared to the previous 17.

Money and muscle power were not the only things that Seshan tried to curtail. In all states, dry days were declared six days before polling.

In the 1994 assembly elections to four states, he deployed 150 election observers to ensure that rules were adhered to strictly. He also deployed 120 audit observers in Andhra, 116 in Karnataka, 60 in Sikkim and 40 in Goa to monitor the election expenses of each candidate.

In the 1996 general elections, the Election Commission deployed 1,500 observers - of three per constituency - for monitoring the elections. Polling stations were run by around 1.5 million state employees, while over 600,000 security personnel were deployed. Some 300,000 people were placed in preventive detention, including 125,000 in Uttar Pradesh, and 59,000 in Madhya Pradesh, where 87,000 firearms were also seized, according to reports.

In 1994, in a move that sent shockwaves through the political establishment, he denounced the then Welfare Minister Sitaram Kesari and Food Minister Kalpnath Rai for attempting to influence voters, and asked the then PM to remove the two from office. There was talk at the time whether the CEC had overstepped his brief by offering such unsolicited advice to the government.

He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award in 1996 for "his resolute actions to bring order, fairness, and integrity to elections in India, the world's largest democracy. In asserting the authority and independence of the Election Commission, Seshan locked horns with India's Supreme Court and has feuded bitterly with the country's politicians, leading to more than one attempt to impeach him."

Interestingly, both Seshan and E. Sreedharan, former DMRC chief who is popularly known as the Metro Man, were classmates at BEM High School and Victoria College in Palakkad.

Both were eligible to study engineering in Kakinada (Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University). While Sreedharan decided to go ahead, Seshan decided to join MCC (Madras Christian College).

He later went to study at Harvard University on Edward S. Mason Fellowship where he earned a master's degree in public administration.



Comment on this article

  • Francis, Shirva/UK

    Tue, Nov 12 2019

    RIP sir, your hard work and honesty to the nation as a CEC will always remembered.

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  • Kumaraswamy, Mangalore

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    India requires such though civil service officers. RIP Sir

    DisAgree Agree [3] Reply Report Abuse


    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    When he took over as CEC and brought about radical changes people were very happy as all banners gone and he stopped misuse of government machinery and corruption in the election people put up banners everywhere " our vote is for Mr. T N Sheshan". Tough officer and lived like that until last big salute sir,

    DisAgree Agree [5] Reply Report Abuse

  • Thomas P. Andrade, Toronto

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    I don’t think any of us know name of any former or current Election Commissioners of India other than Seshan. We still remember this iron-man even after he left his office long back. It’s because he has left such a legacy in our minds. He showed the politicians who they are, what is their role and how to behave themselves. Because of this, he was never liked by any politicians from any party. He lost his Presidential election only because all the politicians were against him. If he had won the election, he would have showed how a President should work, who is known as just a rubber-stamp of ruling party.

    DisAgree Agree [11] Reply Report Abuse

  • ayesha devi, mangaluru

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    Once he was asked what T N stands for. He said "Tough Nut".

    He didn't complain lack of legal power, instead effectively and intelligently used the existing laws & rules to straighten the election process.

    RIP Mr Seshan.

    DisAgree Agree [12] Reply Report Abuse

  • Navin Shetty, Manipal/ Bahrain

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    RIP Sir. The person who showed the nation that there is a department called "Election Commission".

    DisAgree [1] Agree [19] Reply Report Abuse

  • abdul munim, mangaluru

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    A rare gem, hard to find in the world of vultures type political and bureaucratic fraternity of India.

    RIP to you Sir. You really showed what is EC? But sad that now again the EC is completely hijacked by the ruling government.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • GK, Mangalore

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    Do you know ?? TN Seshan also want to become the president of India. He also contested against KR Narayanan in 1997. But he was rejected and lost against KR Narayanan by the ruling government at that time.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse

  • Vishu, Udupi

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    Because of you we don't see any banners or posters during elections. Thank you Sir.

    DisAgree Agree [22] Reply Report Abuse

  • Charles saldanha, MALAD-MALWANI

    Mon, Nov 11 2019


    DisAgree Agree [17] Reply Report Abuse

  • ayes p., kudla/ksa

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    one of the best CEC of India

    DisAgree Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • AM, Mangalore

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    RIP sir, If Sheshan would have been EC during the 2019 elections, the scenario would have been different. Bold and courageous man Sheshan make known to the public what is EC and its rights and how it can discipline the politicians and election process

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  • John R Lobo, Kaikamba/ Mangalore

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    Interesting fact that When TN Seshan serving under r TN Govt he transferred 8 times in one day , and evening he re-instated same dept where he was working before. This is punishment transfer for his No nonsense and sincere attitude.

    His strict action was fatal blow to then corrupt politicians in Central and States.
    For third grade corrupt politicians he became " Alsatian Dog" and was always loggerhead with Central Govt for his fearless attitude.

    He challenged Politicians " Break law and rules , then I will show you who I am "
    Today many IAS / IPS / IRS Officer lost their temper in their Backbone and but Sheshan Sir proved to entire word that what Power CEC got.
    Its our bad back that to clip his wings , central Govt brought Presidential ordinance and inducted 2 more members in CEC.

    RIP Sir, If you are getting birth again please come back as PM of India

    DisAgree Agree [18] Reply Report Abuse

  • Daniel, Mangalore

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    You are one of those fine Sons of India and the Nation is proud.
    If at all would have become President of India, we could have experienced different India in Governance and administration.

    DisAgree Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse

  • Prashant Karkera, Hejamady/Mumbai

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    Rest in peace sir, your services to the nation will be remembered forever ....

    DisAgree Agree [13] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    The only CEC who didn't listen to Politicians.
    RIP Sir ...

    DisAgree [1] Agree [18] Reply Report Abuse

  • I wish I was There, Bahrain

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    The Best Election Commissioner of all time, Mr. T N Seshan. R.I.P Sir.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [20] Reply Report Abuse

  • Save My India, India

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    With tears in my eyes, I can say "Seshan is much more than any Presidents, PMs, or CECs India has ever seen.

    Sad to say, his legacy is eclipsed due to political interference by current politicians of India.

    India will miss a true pioneer and "Patriot".

    Condolences to his family, and all fellow Indians.

    Jai Hind!!!

    DisAgree [1] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • Alwin, Mangalore

    Mon, Nov 11 2019


    DisAgree Agree [4] Reply Report Abuse

  • Chetan, Udupi

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    If Mr SeShan could do it, why not the present CEC?....answer is obvious.

    DisAgree Agree [23] Reply Report Abuse

  • Save My India, India

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    CEC can never use the legacy of Seshan, as long it is a puppet of Central govt.

    DisAgree Agree [11] Reply Report Abuse


    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    Humble homage to T N Sheehan Ji who made free and fair election possible in India.

    DisAgree Agree [21] Reply Report Abuse

  • Joseph, Qatar

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    India shall never see any other replica of his charisma, stature and potential. The way he cleansed up the once so-called orthodoxical rigged electoral system and brought semblance into the transparency of Indian Elections will always be cherished and remembered. We salute you for your contribution. May your departed soul rest in peace.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [17] Reply Report Abuse

  • Honnappa, Byadagi

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    T.N.Seshan conducted free and fare elections in India. He introduced Election Photo Identity Card (EPIC) , timely revision of electoral rolls, ban of painting electoral slogans in public places and defacing them, regulating sticking of posters on each and every places, control on expenditure of candidates, ban on election meeting after 10 p.m which was disturbing people's sleep. India has lost an illustrious son.

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  • James, Belman

    Mon, Nov 11 2019

    RIP sir. Indeed you brought drastic changes during your tenure of service. However today's people who work in the election commission forgot (due pressure and survival) to walk on your footsteps.
    Hope they realize and remember your contribution to the country and mend their ways to walk on your footsteps.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse


Title : Former Chief Election Commissioner T N Seshan passes away at 86


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