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Lyngdoh drives home a content man

Last updated on: February 07, 2004 18:55 IST

Six bags, a couple of books, a small packet of bread, some apples and a cap.

The rear seat of the new Toyota Qualis has been folded up and an old bedsheet spread out for the three dogs - Tashi, Isis and Shiraz.

No, it is not a family's weekend outing. That is how 65-year-old James Michael Lyngdoh left the city where he had spent several decades.

"You should never hang around," Lyngdoh says, hurrying out of his spacious government bungalow a day before his 65th birthday and his last day as the Chief Election Commissioner of India.

With a Uttar Pradesh police escort, the former tourism secretary and his wife are ready for the long drive home to Hyderabad, nearly 1500 km away. A home that is modest, far off from his ancestral roots in the northeast, but one where winds from all four corners of India would meet, as he once put it.

"For now I wouldn't drive since you guys are around," Lyngdoh chuckles as he hands over the Qualis, which has done barely 6300 km, to the driver.

A farewell remark involves his favourite subject, the Indian politician. "I don't like to be sitting with them" and wouldn't want to be born one for the next 10 rebirths.

This is not surprising, given that he had often fallen out with them while in office. "What is so sacrosanct about them?" asks the man who once famously described them as a cancer on Indian society.

Reminded about the resentment that remark had caused, he chuckles. "I am told quite a number of them liked those comments."

Even after his seven years of tireless work in the Election Commission, Lyngdoh is not very optimistic about the Indian politician.

For now the "signs are not good. If you generally have a more educated people as candidates may be things will improve. May be,"  he says and adds that at the moment, a good, independent Election Commission would have an almost confrontational relation with the politicians.

"To make it worse you got a lot of retired government servants. For God's sake, many of them didn't show a spark in their official life span and they want to become politicians after that. This is quite disastrous," Lyngdoh says.

He says the cleaning up of the political system and Indian elections are happening because of peoples' movements. "There is a group in Ahmedabad and also Bangalore, Hyderabad. Basically people from IIM who obtained the order from the Supreme Court that disclosures shall be made by candidates. It is the same set of people who are the driving force for a new a movement. They have been cataloguing candidates for the benefit of voters. In Gujarat, they did it Rajasthan in last elections, they did in Delhi."

But the criminalisation of politics worries him. The government must act to curtail criminals from walking into Indian assemblies and Parliament. "There is no legislation yet. Basically it is too difficult to convict them, so what we have recommended earlier that once courts have framed charges against him then he be disqualified, that is necessary."

For all his concerns, the life in the commission for the past seven years have been wonderful, says this Bihar cadre IAS officer who seemed to have enjoyed every moment of controversy, especially while taking on politicians and errant state governments.

"It has been a wonderful time, almost seven years. I have been fortunate to have good colleagues. We have been able to do some work."

It is the Kashmir
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election,  internationally acclaimed as free and fair and which helped India gather international opinion in its fight against terrorism, that Lyngdoh counts as the biggest achievement of the commission under him. "I think that is the high water mark."

But there were other challenges too. During their visit to Gujarat, "We didn't get much time to look into the humanitarian side. All three of us did feel very moved when we met some of those people, especially the Best Bakery people." 

The Indian courts, legal system, the Election Commission and other such institutions have set high standards. And government too has been sensible by not interfering with his appointment and that of his predecessor, leaving it to seniority, he says. 

"I think the government has been sensible, is sensible and I hope it would continue to be sensible," Lyngdoh says of the government's decision to put off its deliberations on appointing outsiders as chief election commissioners.

Though a man of few words, Lyngdoh has completed a book on Kashmir elections, and is on the verge of completing another one. "That is too much for a semi-literate," he smiles. 

But for now, he just wants to be left alone to enjoy his new-found freedom.

 

Josy Joseph in New Delhi