Sukumar Sen (Chief Election Commissioner, India)

Sukumar Sen (Chief Election Commissioner, India)

Sukumar Sen ( _bn. সুকুমার সেন) (born 1899) was an Indian civil servant who was Chief Election Commissioner of India from 21 March 1950 to 19 December 1958. He also served as first Chief Election Commissioner in Nepal and Sudan.

Sen was the older brother of the more famous Ashoke Kumar Sen (1899-1996), Union Law Minister and a noted Indian barrister. Another brother was Amiya Kumar Sen, the last man to see Rabindranath Tagore alive. [Life of Rabindranath Tagore (1932–1941) says that Sen preserved Tagore's last poem, which he had written down at the poet's dictation, and later donated it to a museum in Kolkata. This Sen was also author of "Tattwabodhini Patrika and the Bengal Renaissance" (1979). Amiya Kumar Sen was formerly lecturer, Calcutta University and principal, City College, Kolkata.]

Sen was born in 1899, the elder or eldest son of a district magistrate. He was educated at Presidency College, Kolkata and at the University of London. He was awarded a gold medal in Mathematics at the latter. In 1921, Sen joined the Indian Civil Service, and served in various districts as an ICS officer and as a judge. In 1947, he was appointed Chief Secretary of West Bengal, the senior-most rank that an ICS officer could attain in any state in British India. He was still serving in that capacity when he was sent on deputation as chief election commissioner.

He remained CEC from 21 March 1950 until 19 December 1958.

en as Chief Secretary of West Bengal

While Chief Secretary, Sen and his colleagues had to deal with the aftermath of an immense influx of refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the outgoing flow of refugees from West Bengal. There were also problems of riots and atrocities against Muslims for the administration to suppresss.

A meeting was arranged between the Chief Secretaries of the two Bengals. Sukumar Sen of the ICS (Later India’s first Chief Election Commissioner) was the Chief Secretary of West Bengal at the time, and he traveled to Dacca, and came back with very bad news. He said that an enormous refugee influx was in the offing, whose number could go up to a million. [Rabindranath Trivedi. [ "The Legacy of the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh – Part V"] , "Asian Tribune" from Dhaka, 21 July 2007. The website also reports how the Secretariat (government building) employees rioted in response to reports of anti-Muslim atrocities in West Bengal, this while Sen was closeted with his counterpart in the same building.]

As Chief Election Commissioner

Historian Ramachandra Guha writes of Sukumar Sen in 2002:

on India's first general election in 1952 has historian 's take on the first CEC:

Nehru's haste [in wanting India's first general election] was understandable, but it was viewed with some alarm by the man who had to make the election possible, a man who is an unsung hero of Indian democracy. It is a pity we know so little about Sukumar Sen. He left no memoirs and, it appears, no papers either.


It was perhaps the mathematician in Sen, which made him ask the prime minister to wait. No officer of State, certainly no Indian official, has ever had such a stupendous task placed in front of him. Consider, first of all, the size of the electorate: 176 million Indians aged 21 or more, of whom about 85 per cent could not read or write. Each voter had to be identified, named and registered. This registration of voters was merely the first step. For how did one design party symbols, ballot papers and ballot boxes for a mostly unlettered electorate? Then, polling stations had to be built and properly spaced out, and honest and efficient polling officers recruited. Voting has to be as transparent as possible, to allow for the fair play of the multiplicity of parties that would contest. Moreover, with the general election would take place elections to the State Assemblies. Working with Sukumar Sen in this regard were the election commissioners of the different provinces, also I.C.S. men. [ [ "Hindu" article (2002)] ]

Tinker and Walker write that Sukumar Sen was aided by two Regional Election Commissioners plus one Chief Election Officer for each state.

The ability of India's first political leaders to refrain from interfering with the machinery, as well as their decision to retain the Indian Civil Service (renaming it to the Indian Administrative Service and making some cosmetic changes) gave Sen and his colleagues the freedom to adapt the machinery used by the British in the first Indian elctions for the purposes of a general election. [ Ilhan Niaz. [ "How democracy became possible in India"] "Dawn", 3 November 2007. Niaz comments:

Though not always successful, Nehru took it upon himself to shield the higher bureaucracy against any arbitrary interference and allowed it to operate autonomously.

This approach paid handsome dividends. Sukumar Sen and his colleagues in the IAS developed and adapted the election machinery inherited from the British Empire in India in preparation for elections on the basis of universal adult franchise.

With their positions secure and their political master sufficiently enlightened to understand when to stop engaging in politics, a hierarchy of IAS officers employed at the central, provincial, and district levels in coordination with the police and village watchmen administered the largest exercises in the history of electoral democracy. The autonomy and integrity of the IAS was a crucial element in motivating opposition parties to participate in the elections and thus contributed to the credibility of the democratic exercise.


Other activities

Sen was the first Vice-Chancellor of Burdwan University, which started on 15 June 1960. Uday Chand Mahtab and the then Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy, facilitated the establishment of this university.



* Ramachandra Guha (2002). * [ " The biggest gamble in history"] "The Hindu" 27 January 2002, magazine section. Later reprinted as [ "Democracy"s biggest gamble: India"s first free elections in 1952. (Reconsiderations)."] (partly available online) "World Policy Journal" 22 March 2002.

* Ramachandra Guha (2007). [ 1957] "The Hindu" 4 March 2007, magazine section. Guha praises Sen as "a man of great intelligence and integrity."

* Justin Willis Director. [ "'A Model of its Kind': Representation and Performance in the Sudan Self-government Election of 1953"] , "The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History", Volume 35, Issue 3 September 2007 , pages 485 - 502

* Irene Tinker, Mil Walker. JSTOR. [ "JSTOR: The First General Elections in India and Indonesia"] . "Far Eastern Survey", Vol. 25, No. 7 (Jul., 1956), pp. 97-110 (available via subscription only).

ee also

*Chief Election Commissioner of India
*Election Commission of India

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