Chennai: Former chief election commissioner T N Seshan, who ruthlessly enforced the model code of conduct and led the game-changing electoral reforms in the 1990s, died here on Sunday following a cardiac arrest. He was 86.
The legendary Seshan was not keeping good health for the past couple of years and passed away around 9.30pm, a senior police official told PTI. He had been largely confined to his home here for the past several years due to his old age.
Former CEC SY Quraishi said on Twitter that Seshan was a true legend and a guiding force for all his successors. "I pray for peace to his soul." Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said, "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."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Seshan was as an outstanding civil servant who served the country with utmost diligence and integrity. "His efforts towards electoral reforms have made our democracy stronger and more participative. Pained by his demise. Om Shanti," the prime minister wrote on Twitter.
Known for his no-nonsense attitude, Seshan was credited with ushering in major electoral reforms during his tenure as the 10th CEC between December 12, 1990, and December 11, 1996. Seshan, it was said, used to wield a big stick while enforcing the model code of conduct to reign in muscle and money power during elections. Born in Thirunellai, Palakkad district of Kerala, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1996. In his acceptance speech of the prestigious award, Seshan had said, "I deemed this award a tribute to the process of democracy throughout the free world, to the wisdom of millions of India's electorate not always necessarily formally educated, to the millions of Indian voters who have overcome disabilities of economic status, social disability, poverty, and prejudice to walk into the ballot booth and use that little marking stamp to decidedly say who they want to rule over them."
A 1955-batch Indian Administrative Service officer, he held various key posts in the government including that of the defence secretary and the coveted position of cabinet secretary. But he gained popularity only after he took over as the chief election commissioner in 1990.
"The man who reformed our Electoral System as we know today is no more. Shri T N Seshan (1955 TN) - served the nation in various capacities and is a true role model for all of us. His demise is a great loss for the nation & society. Condolences," the IAS Association posted on Twitter. "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," said West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Home Minister Amit Shah said Seshan played a transformative role in reinforcing 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," Shah tweeted.
Election Commissioner Ashok Lavasa said the passing away of Seshan "marks the end of an era".
"He upheld the dignity of his office and earned respect by his fierce independence & effective functioning. A goalpost for his successors, he continues to be a benchmark for the constitutional framework of a thriving democracy." BJP's working president JP Nadda said, "Saddened by the demise of former Chief Election Commissioner of India, Sh. T.N.Seshan. He will always be remembered for the reforms he brought in the electoral process and the strength he gave to our democratic structure. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and followers."
"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!" Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari tweeted.
Congress leader Milind Deora said Seshan was an accomplished civil servant, best remembered for reforming the Election Commission of India. "As Chief Election Commissioner, Seshan ji galvanised India's youth to actively participate in the world's largest democratic exercise," he added.