The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll’s Mr Clean makes global splash

New Delhi, July 30: Chief election commissioner James Michael Lyngdoh shies away from publicity and the media glare, but his efforts do not always pay off.

He has caught the attention of the national and international media this time by bagging the Ramon Magsaysay award for his “convincing validation of free and fair elections as the foundation and best hope for secular democracy in India”.

The citation is a tribute to the chief election commissioner’s role in conducting free and fair elections last year in Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat.

“It is obvious. Nobody would have otherwise noticed us. It is a matter of honour for the commission and good for the institution,” said Lyngdoh.

Besides Lyngdoh, another chief election commissioner, T.. Seshan — whose drive to clean up the election process catapulted him into the eye of a political storm — has received the Magsaysay award.

“I am sure many more will receive it in future,” Lyngdoh said.

As always, even today, the commissioner did not have much time for the media. But the queue outside his office lengthened as news of the award spread.

Visitors — mostly from the government — drove up with bouquets to the Election Commission headquarters.

There was little Lyngdoh could do to dodge the media even if he offered reporters the briefest of reactions.

The last time the commissioner’s name was splashed over newspapers was when the BJP failed to pressure him into holding early elections in Gujarat.

The BJP virtually declared Lyngdoh persona non grata after he made it clear that election dates would not be decided on political considerations.

Lyngdoh said elections would be held only when all voters in Gujarat were able to vote freely and fairly.

An angry Sangh — chiefly Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia — pointed at Lyngdoh’s being a Christian and accused him of siding with the Congress and its chief Sonia Gandhi.

The commissioner chose not to indulge in a war of words.

The post-Godhra riot victims poured their hearts out to Lyngdoh when he travelled to Gujarat to decide on the election schedule. He snubbed officials who tried to gloss over the poor rehabilitation work done by the Modi government.

But though the chief minister and his allies in Delhi seethed, Lyngdoh stood his ground.

Soon afterwards, he hit the headlines again when he received accolades for conducting free and fair elections in volatile Jammu and Kashmir.

The commissioner had a tough challenge: to inspire confidence in voters who had forgotten what free and fair elections meant. Instead, the Kashmir elections were hailed inside the country and abroad.

Even the BJP — Lyngdoh’s bete noire — had some good words to say.

Lyngdoh has six months left as chief election commissioner. “Who knows how many more headlines he will grab,” an official said.

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