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Just doing his job

'I just do my job, that is all.'

Thus said James Michael Lyngdoh, chief election commissioner.

That is just what is expected of every bureaucrat. But ever since one of them, T N Seshan, turned the Election Commission from a non-descript office, which officially declares who will rule India and its several states, into the watchdog it was meant to be, politicians have been dreading this phrase.

In service, bureaucrats find their job profile defined by their political masters irrespective of what the nation expects. But some bureaucrats don't have political masters to answer to but a job at hand -- like the Election Commissioners. This allows them to exercise their judgment keeping the nation in mind. Not surprisingly, Lyngdoh has had several standoffs with political parties, the government, and others in his bid to ensure peaceful, free, and fair elections.

His first major test was Jammu and Kashmir. People had lost faith in democracy as previous elections were rigged or boycotted by most parties. While even in the past governments had promised free and fair elections, the EC ensured the promise was honoured in spirit in September-October 2002. Over 40 per cent of the electorate cast their votes; democracy was the ultimate winner.

But it was Gujarat that made Lyngdoh a hero in the eyes of the public. He refused to buckle to the pressure of the Bharatiya Janata Party to hold early elections after the post-Godhra pogrom. Eventually, when elections were held in December 2002, the BJP did retain power but the CEC had made sure it was free and fair to the extent possible.

On July 30, Lyngdoh was honoured with the Magsaysay Award for excellence in government service. According to the citation, Lyngdoh was chosen for his 'convincing validation of free and fair elections as the foundation and best hope of secular democracy in strife-torn India.'

Text: Dhiraj Shetty

Magsaysay for Lyngdoh
'Free bureaucrats from politicians'
Elections homepage
External link: The Election Commission of India

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