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

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TN Seshan CEC

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.

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BJP treads cautious, unleash ‘3 musketeers’ to check out Pilot’s claim

With Gehlot releasing photos, flashing victory sign and his camp claiming there were 107 MLAs, BJP thinks its caution paid off.

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Sachin Pilot

As Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Monday flexed muscles during the Congress Legislature Party meeting, throwing the show open to media claiming around 100 MLAs still in his fold, sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed, they too took Sachin Pilot’s assertion of “more than 30 MLAs” support” with a pinch of salt.

This is why no top BJP leaders met Pilot and instead deputed three BJP intermediaries to “keep a close watch” on the developments. Sources say, the three leaders are BJP General Secretary Bhupender Yadav, Pilots”s former colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia and BJP MP Om Mathur.

While BJP officially maintains that there has been no meeting between BJP leaders and Pilot and sources in BJP claim nor any have been scheduled, Yadav”s role is believed to keep BJP top brass “apprised” of the “developing situation”.

The choice of Yadav may surprise some, given he is incharge of Bihar and Gujarat. However, he hails from the desert state and knows the state”s politics very well.

The second choice was obvious — Jyotiraditya Scindia. While there has been no official confirmation of a meeting between him and Pilot, sources confirmed to IANS that the two had a detailed telephone conversation on Sunday, even as the sulking Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister remained “incommunicado” for the best part of the day to his party colleagues.

Sources who could not confirm what the two leaders — Pilot and Scindia — spoke about, added, “The two have worked together for years. But ever since Scindia joined the BJP along with his supporters, both Pilot and Scindia have been in regular telephonic contact.”

Late on Sunday, after they spoke over phone, Pilot asserted that he will skip Sunday morning”s legislature party meeting and openly announced that the Ashok Gehlot-led government in the state has been reduced to a minority government.

The third BJP leader who was entrusted with the job of “getting a sense” of things in the Gehlot-Pilot face-off, was BJP”s National Vice President and Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan — Om Mathur. Sources indicate that Pilot and Mathur met on Sunday. However, there has been no official confirmation of the same.

Mathur, who on Sunday attacked Congress leader Kapil Sibal saying it”s natural for anyone to look for greener pastures, without naming Pilot, tried to distance BJP from the Rajasthan political crisis on Monday morning. Mathur said: “It is unfair for the Congress party to blame its internal problems on the BJP. The Congress should rather keep its house in order.”

Senior BJP sources say, the party top brass were skeptical of the claim of more than 30 MLAs supporting Pilot. In fact, the job of the three BJP leaders was to get a sense of the authenticity of the claim. If BJP sources are to be believed, the party top brass decided against meeting Pilot unless convinced that he indeed has the numbers on his side.

With Gehlot releasing photos, flashing victory sign and his camp claiming there were 107 MLAs, BJP thinks its caution paid off.

With just 18 MLAs staying off the CLP meeting, Congress seems to have decided not to negotiate any further while BJP distanced itself from the political row. Reports of Priyanka Gandhi pitching in to find a middle path was also reported. With Pilot still dodging camera and microphones, the picture is yet to become clear.

(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at [email protected])

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GenNext leaders leaving party worrying sign for Congress

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PILOT and SCINDIA

New Delhi, July 13 : After Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot may be the next high-profile leader to leave the Congress unceremoniously at a time when the party is grappling to save its image and the government in Rajasthan, even as Congress observer Randeep Surjewala made a high-pitch appeal to Pilot to return to the party fold.

According to sources, Congress leaders have been asked to go soft on Pilot as the party wants to retain him.

Former Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said, “The party doesn”t suffer if a person leaves, but if one by one everybody starts to leave, who will remain in the party? The prime responsibility of the party leadership is to resolve the differences between the leaders.”

Not just Scindia, who led a successful revolt against Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh by jumping ship to the BJP, now Pilot too seems to be mounting pressure on Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Before Pilot, former Haryana Pradesh Congress chief Ashok Tanwar had announced his resignation from the party in October last year after being denied ticket in the Assembly polls. He even protested against the party at 10, Janpath but his grievances were not heard.

Tanwar, who was the party President in Haryana, was removed after pressure from former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Talking on the current crisis in the party, Tanwar said senior leaders don”t want young leaders to grow and sabotage their endeavours.

Tanwar, who is yet to join any party, said his political journey is on and he will take a decision at an appropriate time.

Scindia”s revolt led to the fall of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. After being sidelined by Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh and with the party high command not paying heed to his demands, Scindia joined hands with the BJP and is now an elected Rajya Sabha MP of the party. Chances are that he may soon be inducted into the Union Cabinet.

What”s common between Tanwar, Scindia and Pilot is that they have all been close to Rahul Gandhi. While Tanwar and Pilot were made state Presidents, the latter lost the CM”s race against Gehlot. Similarly, Scindia lost the race for the Chief Minister”s post to Kamal Nath.

There are worrying signs in the Congress, especially after former Union Minister Kapil Sibal said that he was worried for the party.

While senior party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi hoped that an amicable solution will be reached soon, nothing of that sort has happened so far. Pilot seems to be adamant and the trigger for his revolt seems to have come after the SOG sent a notice to Pilot in a sedition case.

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Rajasthan crisis: The story of a nose-diving Pilot and soaring Gehlot!

Pilot stood like a wall between Gehlot and his men and hence, it was expected that he will be shunted out as Rajasthan PCC chief.

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PILOT and SCINDIA

Jaipur, July 12 : The greed of Ashok Gehlot to keep his power intact and the hunger of Sachin Pilot to stay strong in the larger picture is the reason for the tussle which triggered the Congress crisis in Rajasthan.

Since the Congress party formed its government in Rajasthan, there were two power circles created, one being led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and other by Sachin Pilot.

While Congress stands at 101, the BJP and its alliance with RLD had 75 MLAs. Looking at the thin strength, Gehlot played his magic and brought 13 independents under his fold. Later, 6 BSP MLAs merged with Congress.

Surprisingly, Pilot, despite being PCC chief, was kept out and was informed about the developments the next day via the media. This was just the beginning. The files of his department (PWD) were sent back by Finance (under Gehlot) quoting reasons for fund crisis.

Even the ministers of his camp were facing challenges and were receiving back files from bureaucrats quoting “Please Discuss”.

During the Covid crisis, Gehlot was busy calling video conferences with health and other departments, however, Pilot was never part of the meetings.

Pilot camp sources said that the Deputy CM wanted the entire Congress team on ground, however, Gehlot was more interested in making his larger picture and hence centralised the operations during corona.

Even on his father Rajesh Pilot”s death anniversary on June 11, when Pilot and team was about to go to Dausa to pay floral tributes, the police officials called Pilot and asked him to stay away from visiting Dausa as section 144 was imposed in the town in the wake of covid-19.

“They were busy holding meetings, camping in Marriott to prevent MLA poaching, but Pilot was intentionally stopped from visiting Dausa as it could have been his show of strength as many MLAs wanted to visit there,” said an MLA from Pilot”s team. Even the home department is looked after by Gehlot.

Further, the challenge started appearing grave when Pilot wanted Congress grassroots workers to get tickets for ensuing panchayat and corporation polls while Gehlot wanted to favour his closest. Also for political appointments, the CM wanted the BSP and independent MLAs to get plum posts while Pilot wanted them to be kept for Congress workers.

Pilot stood like a wall between Gehlot and his men and hence, it was expected that he will be shunted out as Rajasthan PCC chief.

“However, Pilot wanted to continue his term as PCC chief but was not interested in reading files as minister. The deadlock continued and when he was defamed many times by Gehlot camp in one or the other way, he then decided to bring in the high command into the picture and show his strength and that”s why this is happening now,” said a source.

It”s more like a door-die situation for Pilot but hopefully the Congress high command wakes up from its slumber said a PCC worker who told IANS that the party seems to be crumbling in the state with the deadlock. “We look dead and if things don”t improve, our party will be declared dead.”

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