Dr. S. Y. Quraishi is tall in every sense of the word — tall in physical stature and much taller in status. His services to the nation as well as community are enough to make him one of the most powerful living Muslim Indians of recent times. There is hardly any surprise that India Today and Indian Express rated him as one of the most powerful Indians in 2011 and 2012. If the charisma of personality and the success in career are together selected as the criteria to determine the charm of a person, he can also be rated as one of the most charming personalities of the country. He has been a dynamic bureaucrat who rose to great heights ultimately retiring as the Chief Commissioner of India, which position can very well be regarded as the constitutional guarantor of India’s Democracy. Bureaucrats do not usually prove to be great writers and speakers, but Bureaucracy did not hamper his abilities as a thinker and writer. Quraishi has been a thought-provocative writer and a highly effective speaker. He has been one of the key Muslim figures in the country who advanced the cause of family planning among Indian Muslims through a highly imaginative interpretation of Islamic texts. Introducing him before his lecture, the presenter excellently summed up his career when he said,

Dr Quraishi is, quite literally, one among millions. Named in Indian Express’s list of 100 Most Powerful Indians of 2011 and 2012 and India Today’s High and Mighty Power List 2012, he is one of the most sought-after people for insights on how India works. He is one of very few people who understand the intricacies of how the world’s largest democracy works, given his more than 35 years in the civil services in various roles…. As a former Chief Election Commissioner, Dr SY Quraishi, having conducted the world’s biggest elections with perfection, has an insider’s understanding of how the democratic machinery runs. In this session he shares his unique perspectives on the interdependence between democracy, elections and governance and how all these impact near- and long-term prospects of the country. He also shares his views on how the demographic advantage of having a young population can be leveraged to strengthen the country.”

On the occasion of being awarded prestigious UK-based fellowship for 2015, Joanna Newman, vice-principal (International) at King’s College London, said,

“Dr Quraishi is highly respected for his important contributions to electoral reform and has also overseen the implementation of critical social sector reforms in India”.

“I congratulate Dr Quraishi on his nomination and acceptance of this exciting opportunity and look forward to greater success in the King’s-FICCI relationship in the years to come,” Newman said.

1. Career

Born on June 11, 1947, in Delhi, Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi did his masters in History from the coveted St Stephen’s College of Delhi University, and then completed his PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia on the “Role of Social Marketing in the development of Women and Children”. Later he also did a course on Management Issues in International Health, Management Sciences for Health, from Boston, USA.

Dr Qureshi joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1971 and after holding several strategic and key positions, rose to become Chief Election Commissioner of the world’s largest democracy.

He figured in The Indian Express list of 100 Most Powerful Indians of 2011 and 2012. He also figured in India Today’s Power List of 100 most powerful Indians, 2012.

S Y Quraishi held several important positions which include the following:

  1. Chief Election Commissioner of India, July 2010- June 2012
  2. Election Commissioner of India, June 2006- July 2010
  3. Secretary, Govt. of India Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, 2005–2006
  4. Director General, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), 2004–2005
  5. Additional Secretary & Financial Advisor, Ministry of Steel, 2003–2004
  6. Director General, Doordarshan (National Television) January, 2002-Sept. 2003.
  7. Principal Secretary to Chief Minister, Haryana September, 2000-December, 2001.
  8. Commissioner & Secretary, Irrigation & power Departments Haryana, 1997–1999
  9. Joint Secretary, Youth Affairs, Govt. of India, 1992–1997
  10. Director General, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (Nehru Youth Centres Organisation) 1993–97
  11. Director, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, 1994–97
  12. National Coordinator, Youth Action on AIDS (Oct. 1993 -March 97).

2. An Ambassador of Democracy: Chief Election Commissioner of India

As the Election Commissioner and Chief Election Commissioner of India (2006–2012), he introduced a number of elective reforms and established an Expenditure Control Division and a Voter Education Division in the Commission. By this he controlled money power in elections and brought about a kind of revolution in terms of participation among voters. He also founded the India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management to professionalize election management and share it with the emerging democracies of the world.

He has been a Member of the Board of Advisors of International IDEA (Institute of Democracy and Electoral assistance) Stockholm since December 2012. He was also a Member of the Advisory Committee to assist and advise the Global Commissions on Elections, Democracy and Security headed by Kofi Annan (2010–12).

He has also been Observer of elections in Russia and South Africa. And as a member of Commonwealth Observers Group (feb-mar 2013) in Kenya, Azerbaijan ( oct, 2013) and Mozambique (oct 2014).

He delivered the keynote address at GEO 13, the world assembly of Election Commissioners at Incheon, South Korea.

3. Great Promoter of Youth Development

He founded the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development at Sriperumbudur (TN) and was its first Director from 1993 to 1997. This has now been declared an institution of national importance. He developed India’s National Perspective Plan for Youth-2020. As a Consultant to UNICEF, he developed an approach and strategy paper for the ‘Draft National Plan on Youth in the Service of Children’ that extensively covered gender issues. He was Chairman of the Committee to draft ‘SAARC Youth Charter’ which later was endorsed as “SAARC Resolution on Youth” in the SAARC Summit (1995). He was a key Member of the Project Advisory Board for the UNDCP-ILO Project- “Developing Community Drug Rehabilitation and Workplace Prevention Programmes in India” under the Ministry of Welfare, Govt. of India. He is also credited with introducing a new strategy- YUVA, Youth United for Voter Awareness that created participation revolution in Indian Elections.

4. Contribution to Health and Family planning

Apart from his bureaucratic assignments, health and family planning issues have been close to his heart. His special contribution to the policy and program development in the health sector, women and child development sector includes the following:

  1. Social Marketing for Social Change, a book which has broken new ground in the field of development communication.
  2. One of his monographs is: Social Marketing of AIDS Awareness: An Indian Experiment 1994).
  3. Two path-breaking papers namely “Islam, Muslims and Family Planning in India”, and, “Islam & AIDS”.
  4. The UNFPA nominated him as a Specialist and Resource Person for the International Conference on Islam and Family Planning at Ankara, 1995.
  5. He also led an innovative educational program called ‘Universities Talk AIDS’ (UTA) in more than 10,000 colleges and 300 Universities of the country. It was adjudged as one of the best practices of the world. As Special Secretary, Ministry of Health and Director General of NACO — National AIDS Control Organization, he gave a new direction to the program. He converted the HIV/ AIDS in India from Project mode to Programme Mode and was the first DG NACO. Introduced Adolescent and Sexual Health education program in secondary schools of the country. He puts India’s AIDS program on the world map. He created the Red Ribbon Express, the HIV awareness train that has been running for a decade.
  6. Appointed Hon. Chairman, Sightsavers, India (Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind)
  7. A member of the Board of HIV AIDS Alliance, India
  8. A member of the Independent Commission on Development and Health in India working to draft the New National Health Policy.
  9. Chairman of a committee of National Institute of. Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi to prepare a White Paper on Family Planning for advocacy with the political leaders.

5. Corporate Experience

  1. As Power Secretary Haryana 1997–99 powered Power Sector Reforms and successfully negotiated a World Bank loan of 600 million US dollars for reform and privatization of power sector in the State — the biggest ever loan given to any State, and significant grants from DFID, UK (Pound 15 million), CIDA, Canada (Pound 4 million), USEA (USA) and USAID, and a loan of $400 million from OECF (Japan). World Bank Quality Assurance Team evaluated the project as one of the ten best in the world at the entry stage.
  2. Created the Haryana Electricity Regulatory Commission.
  3. Unbundled the Haryana State Electricity Board into 4 Corporations.
  4. Was Chairman GENCO (Haryana Power Generation Company) and Chairman of both the DISCOMs (Power Distribution Companies) South and North Haryana.
  5. Created Haryana Energy Development Agency for renewable energy promotion. Established twinning with Netherlands in non-conventional energy sector.
  6. DG, Doordarshan, the world’s largest Television network of the Public Broadcasting Corporation of India (2002–03) where he innovated the concept of “narrow casting” for local community television.
  7. Chairman Haryana State Industrial and Investment Corporation (HSIIDC) 2001–02
  8. Additional Secretary and Financial Advisor of the Ministry of Steel, Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy ( Renewable Energy ) and Ministry of Ocean Development (now known as Earth Sciences) 03–04
  9. Director on the Board of Steel Authority of India (SAIL) a Maharatna, among top 5 Public Undertakings
  10. Director, Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd, one of the top 20 Public Undertakings.
  11. Director, National Mineral Development Corporation (NDMC) one of top 20 Public Undertakings
  12. Director Kudremukh Iron Ore Corporation, a Public Undertaking 10.

6. Awards and Honours

He has received several prestigious awards in recognition of his contribution to civil society and human development issues. Some of these are:

‘Nehru Fellow– Award from Nehru Children’s Museum, Calcutta as a part of 300 years of Calcutta1 celebrations (the only Civil Servant in a galaxy of international awardees for innovative and outstanding work in the field of child welfare).

Secular India Harmony Award, 1988, given by the. Vice-President of India for the United Children’s Movement, New Delhi, “(for outstanding- contribution for human understanding).

Silver Elephant — the highest National. Award of Indian Scouts and Guides given by the President of India (1995), in recognition of service of most exceptional character to the movement.

NDTV Indian of the Year 2013 and 2009

Defender of Democracy by Chauthi Duniya Group of Newspapers 2011Nominated FICCI Fellow 2015, at the India Institute, King’s College, London

7. Conferences Addressed

Dr. Quraishi is well known in India and abroad as a development thinker and for his inclusive style of leadership and for bringing harmoniously together wide varieties of groups and institutions for achieving the common objectives of development.

He has travelled widely to represent India at international conferences and dialogues. He has addressed conferences in several Universities like Yale, Harvard, California Berkeley, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, (US) and London (UK). Uppsala (Sweden), University of Warsaw (Poland) BRAC University, Dhaka (Bangladesh).

8. Author

He is author of several books. Some of these are:

  • “An Undocumented Wonder: the Making of Great Indian Election (2014)
  • Old Delhi — Living Traditions, Coffee Table Book on the heritage city, 2010
  • Social Marketing for Social Change (1996) Haryana Rediscovered — A Bibliographical Area Study (1984)

Excerpts from a review of his book, “An Undocumented Wonder”’ by Nagesh Kani

“Former CEC Dr SY Quraishi unravels the myth and mystery behind the great election machine, the men and women who run the world’s largest democracy and the citizens who participate in it with great gusto in his book, ‘An Undocumented Wonder’.

The Indian election is a gigantic exercise that is often called the “greatest show on earth”, not merely because of the scale, size and diversity of the exercise but because of the vibrant volatility of our democracy.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi succinctly sums this up in his foreword to the book. He says, “India is valued the world over for a great many things, but for three over others: The Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi and India’s electoral democracy. The credit for the last of the three fames goes to the people of India … The people are the propulsive force, the driving energy of India’s Electoral democracy. … But the vehicle’s engine, where ignition and combustion take place and the fuel and engine combine to move the vehicle is the Election Commission of India (ECI)”. And behind the vehicle’s steering wheel is the Chief Election Commissioner of India (CEC)”. Dr SY Quraishi, by documenting ‘The Making of the Great Indian Election”, he says, has not only given us a ‘vivid portrayal of what makes India’s elections work and prevail over many obstacles that confront it’, but by also ‘confidence and pride’.

Dr Quraishi, in the chapter on Use of technology in the Indian elections outlines the Election Commission’s efforts at providing better services that include online enrolment in electoral rolls, complaint registration and public grievance management, call centres for public grievances, online information sharing and electoral roll search.

Dr Quraishi writes — “The book is my modest attempt to unravel the myth and mystery behind the great election machine, the men and women who run the world’s largest democracy and the citizens who participate in it with great gusto.

As promised, the pages are ‘replete with anecdotes, case studies and analyses’. It ends with the author’s reflections on ‘a few unresolved issues that affect Indian polity’ such as the paradox of great elections and a flawed democracy, election as the mother of corruption, the rise of the rich in politics, participation without representation, protest and participatory politics, the election as a festival and not a funeral’. Dr Quraishi also dwells at length on his own innovations, including the creation of Voters’ Education and Election Expenditure Monitoring Divisions, India International Institute of Democracy and Election Management and distribution of voter slips and their impact. Here again, as a Mumbaikar, I believe, if the distribution of voter slips was known to more voters through a public information campaign, they would have checked out to ascertain their names figure in the voting list and would not have had to return disappointed.

The book is divided into thirteen chapters — the most interesting reads are Engaging Youth: Converting Subjects into Citizens, Secure Elections Safer Democracy, Voter Education towards peoples’ participation, and Money power in elections.

The most illuminative to me is an extract on Election rules and processes in early medieval India (sourced from www.conserveheritage.org) listing inter alia the selection process in ancient India. The nominee’s name written on a pre-designed palm leaf is dropped in the common pot (kodavolai in Tamil) on Election Day, in the presence of all the people. The oldest priest randomly transfers some leaves to another pot and a small boy from the crowd is asked to pick one. The winner is chosen. The basic criterion for contesting is that the candidate lives in a house on tax-paid land, is between the age of 35 and 70, knows the rules and laws mantra-prahmaana. The qualifications required are– knowledge of business, honest income, a pure mind and not been on any previous committees. The disqualifications are more stringent; they exclude those who are foolhardy, those who have accepted bribes in any form, have been on a committee that has not submitted accounts, the foolhardy, those who have stolen the property of another, partaken in forbidden dishes, committed sins and have become pure by performing expiatory ceremonies or those guilty of incest. For a country whose Bharatiya Sanskriti goes back millennia, some of these some of these qualifications and disqualifications probably need to be included in the Representation of Peoples Act, Election Moral Code of Conduct that are violated so brazenly.

Another interesting box lists the modus operandi of hiding illegal expenses during elections. The 40 different modes listed are unique, as also the six ways of corrupt political financing. There is a page on Financial Discipline and Accountability that requires audit of election expenditure by EC empanelled chartered accountants. These in-house auditors of political parties “are naturally likely to do a perfunctory or whitewash job” says the author.

Some over hyped controversies includes a box on How costly was the cost of covering Mayawati/ BSP symbol ‘elephant’. Dr Quraishi’s also has some interesting comments on his predecessors such as TN Seshan chomping carrots and gabbling on about how he eats politicians for breakfast, JM Lyngdoh being a stickler for rules, who moved Gujarat Chief Minister to refer to him in public rallies as ‘James Michael Lyngdoh in a sly reference to the fact that he is a Christian.’

The chapter Emerging concerns in Electoral Reforms delves with concerns of aam citizens like cleaning criminalization of politics, Tainted MPs in the Lok Sabha, Inner Party Democracy, Transparency in accounts of parties, the problem of dummy candidates, Right to Reject.

The pros and cons of the NOTA option that is used in France, Belgium, Brazil, Chile and Bangladesh, provisions regarding the Right to Reject in Canada are discussed at length. Compulsory Voting, relevance of First-past-the-post and Proportional Representation systems also figure.

The concluding chapter Reflections and afterthoughts has an interesting quote from Sir Winston Churchill –“Democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried’ and failed.” This has his reflections on Trust in public institutions, Tally of the tainted, Enriching the rich, Mother of all corruption, Good Elections Flawed Democracy, Fifty plus one, his views on compulsory voting, Funereal or Festival, Yes, We Can, Is AAP Movement Democracy or Anarchy?

Overall, this book is a must read for all Indians to understand, from a man who has conducted this greatest show, what it means to participate in the election process. They will then see that being part of democratic India is not a right or a duty but a privilege and hopefully we will see even larger numbers of people coming out to vote in the future.” Source

9. Views expressed on various occasions

9.1 On the role of Election Commission

“Election Commission of India should be grateful to the Supreme Court for helping it conducting a fair election throughout the country…We should be grateful to the Supreme Court. I have often said it and also written in the book that Supreme Court is our guardian angel.

“Obviously the election commission’s role that political parties do not very happily accepts. The Supreme Court has given us the power which was there in the Constitution but not becoming the reality.

“It was some 17–18 years back the Home Ministry used to provide us with one company of central armed force but it was the Supreme Court which said no and directed them to prioritise our demands, he said, adding: “Now we get 700–800 companies to ensure that there is no booth capturing.

“Then the transparency in the elections brought in by the Supreme Court’s directives has also helped the Commission conducting a fair election in the country.

“The Supreme Court has made it (affidavits) compulsory for the candidates to file it. They would not listen to us but if Supreme Court says then it becomes a law,

“India has become the electoral superpower for the world. It is the global gold standard. This doesn’t come easy and the world looks to us.”

(On the occasion of the launch of the third edition of his book “An Undocumented Wonder: The Making of the Great Indian Election”) Source

9.2 On the dynamics of elections

(Excerpts from an interview with India Real Time)

Like every election, the challenge is to maintain a level playing field amidst a bitter political contest. Another challenge is to ensure that law and order is maintained and the whole election process is completed peacefully. Appeals [for votes] on the grounds of religion are also a matter of concern. The Election Commission is quite concerned about the extremely low level of voter participation in Uttar Pradesh (voter turnout was only 45.95% at the last assembly elections in 2007) and would like to see it enhanced through a range of voters’ education and facilitation measures. One more big challenge is to keep black money out of election campaigns.

There is no cap on expenditure by political parties in elections. However, political parties will have to report their expenditure to the commission within 75 days of the polls.

The commission has taken a series of measures to prevent the flow of illegal money during polls. These include opening of separate bank accounts for campaign expenditure for easy monitoring, restriction on cash movements without proper documents, deployment of surveillance squads at strategic points, 24×7 vigilance and maintenance of a shadow expenditure register for each candidate to prevent under-reporting. A large amount of cash has already been seized. As of today, it is 360 million rupees ($7.0 million). Expenditure observers combined with teams of revenue and police officials are keeping a hawk-eye on illegal money.

The commission has acted with its best ability to keep the election arena clean of paid news after persistent representations (complaints) from political parties, media groups and citizens at large. We have put in place district level, state level and commission level committees to monitor and issue notices on suspected cases of paid news. This mechanism has worked reasonably well in recently held elections and we hope it works in the current elections as well. Political parties and media houses have been briefed in advance. Some notices have already been issued on suspected cases of paid news. We have written to the Press Council of India for support to strengthen this mechanism.

I would not like to make a blanket comment. The Lokpal is a concept still in the making and there could be many ways to achieve its objectives. Being a constitutional body like the Election Commission, however, has its strong merits. Source

Contact Address:

Dr. S. Y. Quraishi,

901, Sector 17 B,


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