Rediff Logo News Find/Feedback/Site Index
September 4, 1999


E-Mail this interview to a friend

The Rediff Election Interview/T N Seshan

'The Congress will have to drag me to make me a minister'

Congress candidate Tirunellai Narayanaiyer Seshan was busy touring the small villages that dot the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency. Unlike his most serious rival Lal Kishenchand Advani, whose motorcade comprised at least a dozen vehicles, including police vans and ambulances, Seshan's had just three cars, and of course the jeep hired by that was chasing him all around.

On September 2, before he began his campaign, Seshan, a deeply religious man, visited the huge and magnificent Swaminarayan temple in Gandhinagar. There, he sought the blessings of the priest and prostrated himself before the deity.

Later, during a stopover at Rampur village, where he addressed a small gathering, Amberish K Diwanji requested Seshan for an interview. The former scourge of journalists agreed immediately with a "Rediff? My old friends!" and said he would join the team in their jeep so that the interview could be conducted on the way to the next village.

But as Seshan was about to enter the jeep, his secretary came rushing up and mumbled something into his ear that stopped the former chief election commissioner in his tracks. "I can't go in your car," he declared suddenly. And pray why not? "Because then your vehicle will become part of 'MY' electoral expense." The Model Code of Conduct was turning on the very man who had raised it to a sacred scripture!

The travelling interview scuttled, Seshan agreed to a briefer Q&A on a charpoy (cot) before he and his team moved on. Excerpts:

What drove you to enter politics?

I have enjoyed 36 years of my life as a civil servant. The country has given me so much and I thought it is time I give the country something in return.

Now, to be in public service, it is necessary to hold a public office. To hold a public office, it is necessary to get elected. I don't have the resources to fight the election as an independent and thus needed to be part of a political party. Now, between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, it is the Congress that is closer to my views.

In 1998, a number of parties approached me to join them -- the Congress, BJP, Janata Dal - but I was not interested then and said no to all. This time the Congress approached me and I accepted.

What has been the response and what are your chances of winning?

I will win. It is simple. Earlier I toured all the larger villages of my constituency, including Gandhinagar town and the parts of Ahmedabad that fall in Gandhinagar constituency (on September 1, Seshan was in Ahmedabad). Now I am only wrapping up my campaigning, visiting all the small villages and hamlets that still remain to be covered. You may find it hard to believe, but in all the villages that I have visited the support and enthusiasm has been unbelievable. The response has been amazing.

Even though your opponent is L K Advani?

The people are not fools. They know the difference between appearances and reality. They know that behind Advani lies the BJP, which plays one religion against the other. Then the people are also upset with various other issues such as the rising prices and the national security....

Aren't you concentrating more on local issues? Is national security an issue in the villages?

Certainly I am concentrating on local issues, but I am also referring to national issues and the people understand. Let us not think that because they are poor people living in villages they don't comprehend larger national issues. No doubt the first and most immediate concern of the villagers and people in the Gandhinagar constituency is the need for water, but they also have the larger national issues in mind when they go to vote.

What is your plus point in the campaign? Do the people recognise you?

My positive point is that I am a straightforward person. I was so as the chief election commissioner and I am the same now. I tell the villagers what I intend to do, and what all I can do. No tall promises, just what is possible, and the people have appreciated that.

Also, the people do recognise me. Maybe not everyone, but many do. And the Congress workers have introduced me well enough for them to know who I am.

You have been in Gujarat for quite some time now. How do you find it?

Oh, the Gujaratis are extremely nice and a great people. They speak very fast and so you think that they are quarrelling, but actually it is just their way of speaking. They have been very warm and hospitable.

Any reason why you chose this constituency?

I didn't choose this constituency. I was asked by the Congress to contest from here and I said okay. It all happened very fast. I received a call in Madras on August 12 from the Congress leaders, I reached Delhi on August 13, and I met the Congress leaders on August 14 who asked if I would contest from Gandhinagar and I said yes. And then I flew down here to file my nomination.

You have said you will stay here if elected.

I am being very realistic on this count and not fooling anyone. I will have work in Delhi as a member of Parliament, and I have a house in Madras. But all my free time I will spend in Gandhinagar. In fact, I have said that at least 50 per cent of my entire time I will be Gandhinagar. That is a promise! I have also promised to learn Gujarati in six months.

What if you are made a minister, which means you will be needed in Delhi?

I have said that the Congress will have to drag me to make me a minister. I am not interested in becoming a minister and would be much happier serving the people in Gandhinagar as their Lok Sabha representative.

Seshan and Advani battle without rancour

The Rediff Election Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview