Arun and I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one interview with Mr. JM Lyngdoh (Former Election Commissioner) after his lecture. Below is the transcript of the interview. The issues covered in this interview were;

– Private Funding of Elections

– Student Elections

– The 49-O debate

– Voting solutions and accommodations for the Middle Class

– Elections in Chattisgarh

The podcast of the interview may be downloaded here.

Arun : My first question is with regard to the issue of private funding that you raised. Sir you had drawn a comparison with the United States perspective where in there would be private funding in election campaigns. Can you think of any particular evil of introducing it in India ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : Let me make it quite clear. It is not private funding that is the greatest problem in the tracking of funding in India. The main source of funding in election campaigns is government funding and the stemming of it should be the main focus. This source of funding is highly objectionable; whether from a literal point of view or from a normal point of view.

Arun : Would you then perhaps encourage corporate entities or industrialists in funding and having their say in financing election campaigns ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : Believe me, the corporate sector is even more unreliable than the government when it comes to election campaigns. I don’t want them to be a part of it.

Arun : Sir, another question that I had was with regard to the recommendation by a Committee that you headed on the elections in universities and amongst student bodies. This is of particular interest to us and since we don’t have time to go over each of those recommendations; what would you single out as the most important point in that Committee Report ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : The most important recommendation that was violated by the Delhi University is that it was made very clear that ‘direct elections’ at the University level are suitable only for small universities like JNU and the like. They are not suitable for bigger universities and in bigger universities we recommended that indirect elections take place and direct elections don’t make sense because you only have a few days of canvassing and if the Universities are too large you don’t even have time to visit all the campuses and all. The net result is that you try to make up by spending as much money as possible and here is where the money comes in via intermediaries like the ABVP, political students unions and all.

Arun : So the recommendations were primarily targeting finances and the intermediaries in student elections and bodies. Or was there some greater objective ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : No, it is very clear that political parties have to be dissociated from student elections.

Arun : So are you envisaging a situation where student elections happen irrespective of the backing of political parties ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : Obviously you can’t keep the influence of political parties away and it is going to be in the air. The air that we breathe and they are going to be there in the background. But they shouldn’t be around when elections are going on; and they shouldn’t be distributing money.

Aditya : Sir, the third question is more specific in nature. It is said that the Code of Conduct Rules of 1969 have a certain provision Section 49-O giving the voter a right to choose ‘None of the above’. … (interrupted)

Mr Lyngdoh : No No, you are not right there. This matter is yet to be decided and there has to be an amendment of the law to incorporate this kind of a provision. The Election Commission has made the recommendation but the parliament has not yet sat down and deliberated on it.

Aditya : Assuming that this recommendation has been made but not yet incorporated; would you support such a provision ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : Of course I would. The Election Commission was the first to recommend it.

Aditya : At the start of your lecture, you vindicated the middle class for being a little over educated and not participating in the electoral process. In the social situation of the country, the middle class voter never resides in his hometown. (Interrupted)

Mr. Lyngdoh : I never vindicated it. I meant that the middle class is a cowardly class. If you look at it historically, it is a very cowardly class. In the olden days, all the wars were fought by the upper ruling class and the peasants as soldiers. But the middle class wasn’t present. Today the middle class is more concerned with attending lectures (humour intended).

Aditya : You are perfectly right, but my point was a little different. Let us take a personal example; I belong to mysore and am a registered voter there. However I reside in Hyderabad. Now when the elections come, I am expected to go to Mysore and vote unlike other common wealth countries where you can even vote by post. Do you agree that this is a problem ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : Absolutely. Some arrangement has to be made to accommodate this problem.

Dr. Veer Singh : Like the Armed Forces where there are separate voting booths so that they can go and vote .

Mr. Lyngdoh : Its much more than that. You know in England, If you have been a student there for quite a number of years, you can go and vote.

Aditya : So with a major population of our middle class staying out of their home towns, what would you propose ? When would you see such a thing happening ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : There can be no two opinions about the fact that something has to be done. Im not sure I’m the right person to give a timeline for this. It is also to be noted that it may be beyond us to carry it out. We are a huge country with a large number of people.

Dr. Veer Singh : The logistics are very difficult to handle in such a situation.

Arun : Was it considered by you during your tenure ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : I had things much more pressing than this to handle. The present CEC is a very fine person but he is retiring in April this year. Im not even sure if he is the right person to ask. What you should do is to ask the new person whoever he is to do something about this.

Aditya: Sir one last question, considering your experience in handling the elections in Gujarat and Kashmir; ofcourse you were not the CEC during the instance I’m going to ask about; But how exactly would you have handled the elections in Chattisgarh? We know of the Salwa Judum there and the naxalite terror. There was a lot of violence reported to the extent that it is said that the CRPF did the voting on behalf of the voters while sitting in the helicopters. How exactly would you have tackled a situation like this ?

Mr. Lyngdoh : Well I have had the advantage of going to Chattisgarh in a different capacity. This was regarding child rights and I joined Ms. Shanta Sinha’s group and I am familiar with the conditions in that area. Vast areas and villages have been cleaned up and some of them have gone to the camp. Obviously in those vast open spaces, no sensible voting could’ve taken place and those are areas where even the state government is afraid to go. And in the camps again, it is very easy to influence the voters; ‘the people are my guests and I can kick them around and do whatever’. ‘They are victims and if I want them to vote in a particular way I can expect them to do so’.

So it is not a good or safe situation at all, but very sad as to what is going on there. I would’ve put some special independent observers at the camps. They are not too many of them; about half a dozen or so. So put some really good observers to monitor the situation; and the best observers come from Bihar. (Laughs!)

End of Interview.