Model Poll Conductor The steely standards set by T.N. Seshan, when he was Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in the 1990s, have been followed by most of those who succeeded him. They have been tough, no-nonsense individuals, determined to uphold the Election Commission's (EC) statutory independence and enforce the model code of conduct for elections scrupulously, even if it meant pulling up top members of the government.
Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi, 64, the current CEC, is no different. His clashes with Law and Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma for their alleged violation the code during the justconcluded campaign for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, were the stuff of front page newspaper headlines for days. He even complained to President Pratibha Patil against Khurshid. His face-off in January with Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal, who accused EC officials of exceeding their mandate, only to be sharply rebutted by Quraishi, was equally high profile.
An initially defiant Khurshid later apologised for the speech - promising a nine per cent subquota for 'backward minorities' - Quraishi had objected to. Curiously, this was the second recent face-off between Quraishi and Khurshid. Earlier, Quraishi had complained to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that a remark of Khurshid's in a television interview was an attempt to undermine the EC's authority. Khurshid had said every institution was under some sort of government control, citing the example of EC officials having to take the law ministry permission for foreign tours. Singh assured him there was no such intention.
Quraishi's critics, however, maintain his strictness has sharp limits, and that he did not go far enough in the Khurshid case. "He should have debarred Khurshid from further canvassing," says Bharatiya Janata Party leader Shahnawaz Hussain. Others insist the CEC has never confronted the most senior leaders of the government.
Quraishi did not respond to Business Today's request for an interview. An alumnus of St Stephen's College, Delhi - an alma mater he shares with Khurshid - Quraishi, joined the IAS in 1971 and was assigned the Haryana cadre. He is a rare CEC in that he has observed the electoral process from the bottom up, having been a returning officer during the then newly created state of Haryana's first assembly election in 1972. In a 35-year-long IAS career - ending in June 2006 when he joined the EC, rising to CEC in July 2010 - he has held a number of key positions, including that of Union Health Secretary and Director General of National AIDS Control Organisation.
Alongside, Quraishi has also found time for academic pursuits, acquiring a Ph.D for his thesis on The Role of Communications and Social Marketing in the Development of Women and Children, writing a book Old Delhi: Living Tradition, that mixes history and sociology, as well as several papers on the socio-economic situation of Muslims, and the AIDS problem. He is fluent in several languages, including German, Persian and Arabic. Quraishi has two children, a son and a daughter.
-Anilesh S. Mahajan