Two former IAS officers — both legends in their own right — passed away on Sunday. TN Seshan was the ‘tough as nails’ Chief Election Commissioner who cleaned the Augean stables of India’s electoral arena in the 1990s, while former Union Secretary PS Krishnan championed the cause of the have-nots and worked for the removal of caste-based inequalities. They set high standards of public service with their proactive, people-centric approach.
Seshan never flinched from confronting powerful politicians or even the Supreme Court. Before his arrival on the scene, the country’s elections were a free-for-all in which money and muscle power ruled the roost. He brought about sweeping reforms, such as enforcing the model code of conduct in letter and spirit and introducing voter ID cards. In 1994, he censured Congress ministers Sitaram Kesri and Kalpnath Rai for their alleged attempts to influence voters and asked then PM Narasimha Rao to sack them. Rao didn’t do the needful, but Seshan made it clear that he would not spare anybody for electoral malpractices. It’s highly unlikely that the nation’s top political leaders would have got a series of clean chits for alleged violations of the model code had he been at the helm of affairs in more recent times.
Even as Seshan went all out to empower voters and disempower unscrupulous politicians, Krishnan fought for providing social justice to the oppressed. He was the Secretary in the Ministry of Welfare when the VP Singh government implemented the Mandal Commission report that sought to provide 27 per cent reservation to socially and educationally backward classes. All his life, this staunch supporter of BR Ambedkar swore by the constitutional tenet of equality among citizens and emphasised the role of reservation in correcting the imbalance perpetuated by the caste system. Born in an upper-caste Hindu family, Krishnan’s crusade for the rights of the downtrodden made his peers wonder whether he was a Dalit — and he was one at heart. In their own ways, Krishnan and Seshan abandoned their ivory tower to bridge the yawning chasm between the government and the public. And yes, they don’t make them like that anymore.
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