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THROUGH THE BROKEN GLASS: AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF TN SESHAN
The Legend of the Election Commission of India; The person who single handedly turned around the election scene in India

Like a western: a hundred or so horse men, riding across the countryside, and thundering into a village. The specific location targeted:- an election booth. The terrified people who were there run helter-skelter, dissappear from sight. Some of these horse men get into the booth, grab the blank ballots, start stamping them vigorously, stuff the votes into the ballot box, and then the whole troup thunders off to next polling booth. A scene from the movies? No! it actually happened in the 1991 General Elections in India. This is documented in government and the Election Commission records.

Would the nation have become a banana republic if the trend were not arrested? We will never know. But figuring out from what Mr. Seshan shares in his book, we can see that there has been divine intervention in bringing the mercurial TN Seshan to the post of the Chief Election Commission. And the Election Commission delivered.

In the six years that he was in office, there was visible dramatic change in the election scene. The Election Commission of India was able to re-assert its autonomy under the Constitution of India. And most of all, he proved that the very same government mechanism, which the Indian citizen very often complains about, can rise to deliver marvallously; provided the man on the top has integrity and commitment.

Mrs Jayalakshmi Seshan, his wife, used to say about him, "all he did was his duty and for that they celebrated him so much".

True he did his duty, but he did it without fear or fervor and it was the output of an intellegent, diligant and righteousness bound mind. His is a story of a common man, who rose to great heights on the strength of his personality and character. Admired by the common citizen, feared by the politician, and 'good copy material' to the fourth estate, he is one of the makers of modern India. And this is his story.



Book Publisher: Rupa and Co
Author: T N Seshan;
No of Pages: 357
Price: (Hard Cover) Rs795/-
I.S.B.N: (Print) 978-93-5702-196-8
I.S.B.N: (e-copy) 978-93-5702-214-9
Availability: Get your copy here

“The role played by Mr. Seshan in the Election Commission of India cannot be overemphasized. I always held the view that if ever the history of the Election Commission of India is written, it has to be in two parts; the first, pre-seshan and second post-seshan. He did play a significant role in shaping the election management in this country.”

------Shri T S Krishnamurthy IAS (Rtd.), Former Chief Election Commissioner of India

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The coming of “THROUGH THE BROKEN GLASS”: and the related fulfilled and unfulfilled agenda



Convincing Mr. TN Seshan to write his memoirs was a huge task for his well-wishers; he showed great hesitation. For a person who had been in the public eye, and how, a memoir should have been nothing out of the ordinary. I am sure the idea ‘Why not?’ would have passed his mind many times. But he was very hesitant for whatever reason. Finally, he gave in to his mentee and protégé Mr. Rahul Karad and accepted the Karads’ (of the World Peace University) offer for help towards the task.

One alumnus of the second batch of the MIT School of Government at Pune, I, Nixon Fernando, was drafted to assist Mr. Seshan for the work. I arrived at Mr. Seshan’s Place in December 2007.

On reporting for the job, I was given his autobiographical and biographical works, and historical records and was asked to create a narrative out of the available material. It was to be an autobiography and so I had to write it in the first person. So that leads us to the first important question:

Is this an autobiography or something else (maybe biography in the first person)?

There is a grey zone here alright. Two earlier books that represented Mr. Seshan’s life story had authors Sanjoy Hazarika and K Govindan Kutty, ... both excellent writers and professional journalists. These books were designated as biographies officially, but they were very often referred to as autobiographical works. Then there was this series of articles that appeared in a Tamil weekly and it was compiled into a book with a title that translated to “My Story”. Though he got help in writing this work, the authorship is attributed to Mr. Seshan himself. The present book, “Through the Broken Glass”, is more of the latter kind.

After I submitted my research running into volumes, may be around half a million words, it went through a process of vetting and trimming by several of his close associates; lawyers, bureaucrats and Election Commission co-workers. So, by the time the final draft came out, it was brought down to may be half the size. We can effectively say that Mr. Seshan decided almost everything about the book. He relied on the skill sets of many had known, to see that the project went forward smoothly and to a plan.

So then, what was it, biography, autobiography...? Though I had done the bulk of the writing, I can safely say that it was not a biography because it would have been different had I had been the author. I would have interviewed many persons, added some other stories, worked on fresh angles like the ISRO for instance. But that was not to be. Most of all, it would have been genuinely hagiographic. Biography in the first person was also not right for the same reason. Autobiography by a ghost writer or Autobiography were the two choices left. And though it is not an Autobiography in the black and white sense, it is a deep shade of grey closing in on one. It was discussed several times and finally it was decided that it should go out as an autobiography and Mr. Seshan signed a document to that effect; incidentally also giving me the copyright.

Even though the book would have been in another league if Mr. Seshan himself had written/dictated it, it is of immense value regardless. It remains an authentic and authorized narration of his outstanding work at the Election Commission. It is a compilation of his actual words picked up from numerous places where he was quoted verbatim. And an immense and outstanding personality, shines through out of his sheer brilliance.


How was it named “Through the Broken Glass”?

If I had had it my way, I would have called it “From Duty to no Duty”. I suggested the same to Mr. Seshan. ... The reason being that his life reflected this in huge measure. Let me explain: A passage from his favorite book the Bhagwad Gita (3:17) says: “But those who rejoice in the self, who are illumined and fully satisfied in the self, for them, there is no duty.”

Mr. Seshan did not seem like he was self-realized, and he never claimed he was. But like a yogi he pursued his duty all his life, and with such excellence and passion that he found oneness with the highest possible goal of government in his decisions—as if he himself had drafted the law and it was his own personal will and desire. He was not performing his duty at such times… he was one with the highest possible desire of the constitution of India and for one such, his work was surely not duty anymore. Therefore, I could see clearly that all his service life he lived in that zone which had duty on one end and ‘no duty’ on the other. That is why, if it were a biography I would have wanted to be “Between Duty and No Duty” or something like that.

When we were discussing this topic Mr. Seshan expressed that, from the various choices brainstormed so far, the title “Through the Broken Glass” seemed most suitable. He had not finalized it, and continued taking suggestions from the people close to him. When asked, I suggested what I thought was a good choice, and explained it to him. I know he had thought over it, but he never gave me a final decision on what it should be. So, I had the freedom to decide. “Through the Broken Glass” emerged as the proper thing to do.


The next question: why was it published after his passing?

There is a lot of scope for speculation as to why he did this. And those close to him thought, among other things, that he did not want to get into controversy ... at the end of his life, some others thought he did not want a run-in with the government of the day. Then, he surely did not want to be subjected to public scrutiny at that time in his life. Many other reasons could be thought of but according to Mr. Seshan, the god-man Shri Satya Saibaba had asked him not to have his memoirs published during his lifetime; this advise primarily influenced him in his decision. His friends and family, including Mrs. Jayalakshmi Seshan, his wife, tried to convince him that he should publish right away, when he was still alive, but no amount of coaxing helped.

Be that as it may, in my personal view, there is an important opportunity for the nation in this decision to publish his memoirs after his passing. It may not matter to Mr. Seshan as he is no more, but it might serve to improve the situation for the Election Commission.

We know that the Supreme Court has recently shown dissatisfaction over the fact that the Chief Election Commissioners of India have not been able to have sufficiently long/stable tenures. The Court zeroed in on the procedures that are in place to appoint Election Commissioners, and it passed orders accordingly. But based on how the government responded, it is clear that the concerns of the Supreme Court have not been addressed. But there is another place the Supreme Court can look into: its own verdict on 'Two Additional Election Commissioners' given by a five judge bench in mid-1995,

Of this verdict the experts have said that the authority of the Election Commission has effectively been eroded vis-à-vis the executive. Most importantly, an analysis of that verdict shows that the 'projected personality' of Mr. Seshan played an important part in addressing what is essentially a constitutional question. Mr. seshan appealed, the same bench heard the appeal and dismissed the appeal too.

So, would a review of that case help towards addressing the concerns of the Supreme Court, besides restoring, to an extent, the autonomy of the Electon Commission?

If the pubilshing of the autobiography of Mr. Seshan can be seen as yet another appeal, made after his passing to the next world, we can indeed see an opportunity. The constitutional question can now be addressed without factoring in personalitiies involved; Mr. Seshan's projected personality need not be a point of distraction—if the case were to be reviewed today. May be the verdict can now be reviewed based on, among other things, studying how the outcome of that verdict has since influenced the functioning of the Election Commission of India.

Did Mr. Seshan have this on his mind when he asked for his book to be published after he passed away…? We will never know.

It remains to be seen if this review finally happens, and if so, whether it will bring a certain sense of closure to his incredible and honorable mission at the Commission.


Why has Mr. Seshan not been honored at the national level?

Despite the immense impact he has had on the modern Indian nation, and despite the intensity of the popularity, respect, and admiration he had earned amidst the common citizen, he has not received any national honors. And the reason is obvious. ...

These national awards are decided by politicians, and he proved to be a pain in the neck for that very class in India. He troubled them so much that they did everything they could to get rid of him from the position of the CEC. Finally, they were able to convince the Supreme Court to accept their scheme of three equal Election Commissioners; the other two were appointed by the politicians for obvious reasons. And this very group of politicians denied him the opportunity to be President, and have not considered him for a honor of any kind at the national level.

But politicians aside, Mr. seshan diligence in upholding the rule of law and Dharma and his creative efforts at pursuing his mandate is something that is worth honoring. Mr. Seshan’s story needs to be told as it does matter to the future generations—both individually towards personality building, and collectively towards nation building.

The Magsaysay award did its bit by honoring him. And so have many individuals, NGOs, and private organizations in India. But it remains a sore point that the governments in India have not acknowledged his immense work. And just as the luster of the Noble prize has been dimmed, at least one teeny-weeny bit, as it has failed to honor the messenger of peace, Mahatma MK Gandhi, so also the luster of the national awards in India is dimmed as it has failed to honor such yeomen service as rendered by Mr. TN Seshan to the nation.


Those who uphold the constitution of India, who are squeaky clean, who stake everything in order to do what is right, who dare to take on even the tall and mighty, if need be, so as to righteously uphold their respective mandates under the constitution and the law; that is the kind of people who will make this nation (in fact any nation) great. Honoring such as these is what India must do if it wants to be anywhere near being a great nation that it aspires to be.

Some Relevant Videos and reviews


1. The book release function of Through the Broken Glass
this video is on facebook

2. Watch Mr. Seshan interacting at the MADRAS CHRISTIAN COLLEGE,DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI SERIES 2013-PART-7
This video is on Youtube

3. High and Mighty...
This is a review by Bibek Debroy that appeared in The New Indian Express dated 07 Oct 2023.

4. Through the Broken Glass: An Autobiography’ by TN Seshan: Moves and moods of a reluctant CEC
This is a review by K Govindan Kutty which appeared in The Tribune


BOOK RELEASE
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The book was released by former Chief Election Commissioner Mr. T S Krishnamurthy at chennai on 6 Sept 2023.

click on the image above to watch a live recording of the event on Facebook.
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