The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Free and fair credit to Lyngdoh

New Delhi, Oct. 10: There was a rush of mediapersons at the Election Commission headquarters as elections results from Jammu and Kashmir started pouring in. Chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh once again was very much in demand. Had he wanted he could have soaked in all the attention that was coming his way.

But Lyngdoh being Lyngdoh, he refused to preen though he was likely to be remembered as the chief election commissioner who came as close as possible to conducting free and fair elections in Jammu and Kashmir. But he blithely shrugged off all compliments with a one liner: “The Election Commission has done its duty — nothing more.”

Political parties however were generous in their praise of the Election Commission — the way Lyngdoh had instilled confidence among the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“There is no doubt that these elections were a contrast with the coercion witnessed in the 1996 elections. The chief election commissioner did his best to get the people to come out and vote,” said a Left leader. They felt that the poll outcome clearly pointed to free and fair elections without widespread coercion by the army and police.

The drive for a clean electoral system was begun by T.N. Seshan who hollered at political parties for their ‘noisy’ campaigns, for defacing walls with posters and writing for intimidating voters and rigging. It was Seshan who introduced identity cards for voters.

The most prominent difference between Seshan and Lyngdoh, however, lies in their attitude towards the media and publicity for themselves. The media sought out the flamboyant chief election commissioner who, in turn, whenever he deigned to speak, made the media’s day with his biting comments.

Seshan made himself a ‘high-profile’ chief election commissioner and later also dabbled in politics. In contrast, Lyngdoh functioned obtrusively.

From the very outset of the Kasmir poll process, the commission went around systematically plugging the loopholes in the electoral system in the state. Commission members toured the state extensively zeroing in on the gaps. For instance, one of the first measures the commission initiated was to replace the tattered and illegible electoral roles with computerised rolls. It also introduced special identity cards to weed out bunglings.

When the countdown began, the commission heard out complaints from candidates who feared partisan intervention by a section of officers on duty. The commission immediately transferred them.

Preparations for the Jammu and Kashmir poll began at a time when the chief election commissioner was facing severe flak from the BJP for refusing to order early polls in Gujarat.

According to non-BJP political leaders, his unflinching stand had a positive impact on the people of Jammu and Kashmir. It gave the Election Commission a credibility that was much needed for conducting free and fair polls, they say.

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