TN Seshan’s death reminded me of an incident from the early ’90s when he was invited to my alma mater, DAV College, Chandigarh, to speak on electoral reforms at a public forum.
The former IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre had made quite a name for himself as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) who meant business. He had brought in various reforms in the electoral process and rid it of several malpractices.
The college auditorium was packed to capacity to see the man who had the guts to challenge the mighty politicians of the day.
Soon, Seshan started his speech that was peppered with his signature one-liners. He held forth on the issues plaguing the country, especially our electoral process. He took on several well-known politicians without mincing words. He boasted of how he would make fun of corrupt politicians. He even named a veteran leader and talked about how he would tell the leader “Tu cheez badi hai bhrasht-bhrasht” — copying a popular number from Mohra movie.
I don’t remember much of his speech in which he vilified politicians of all hues. Then, it was time for the question-and-answer session. The audience, which comprised distinguished people of the city, besides the students, started asking questions.
While the session was on, a youth — probably an outsider — asked Seshan as to why he had left out J Jayalalithaa while naming so many other politicians in his speech, adding that just because his name was ‘Tamil Nadu’ Seshan. No sooner had the young man finished the question, Seshan, who was standing on the dais, flew into a rage. He thundered: “Tumhare baap ne mera naam Tamil Nadu Seshan rakha hai. Ek tameez hoti hai baat karne ki. Tumhare maa-baap ne tumhe tameez nahin sikhayee.”
As the youth tried to save the situation, it further infuriated Seshan. He even threatened to call the police to remove the ‘offender’ from the scene. As the situation seemed to be getting out of hand, it became too much for a bunch of Punjab and Haryana High Court lawyers sitting in the front row, who came to the youth’s rescue. One of them got up from his seat and told Seshan: “Don’t try to intimidate the young lad. This is a public forum and he has every right to ask questions.” The counter-aggression shown by the advocate made the CEC relent and the situation was defused.
Now, almost a quarter-century later, the Magsaysay awardee’s passing away in Chennai has brought back memories of the eventful day when the CEC had so easily flown off the handle at a public function. However, this was just a behavioural aberration in someone who will always be fondly known for his uprightness and having done the unenviable job of “cleaning up” India’s electoral mess.
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