The Importance of being J M Lyngdoh
February 02, 2004
I am a Westerner and born a Christian. I should be happy that someone like Chief Election Commissioner James Lyngdoh, a Christian, attracts so much attention from the Western press and gets so many accolades from foreign governments. When he recently won the Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize, he did his country proud. After all, had he not defied government pressure for an early election in riot-torn Gujarat and overseen fair polls in Kashmir? When again, he is trying all he can, before he retires in early February, to delay the advancement of elections by the BJP, he may be performing his duties as best as he conceives it.
Yet, it makes me slightly uneasy. Why? Two reasons. First he constantly belittles his country, nay, he vomits India. When Mr Lyngodh appears on the BBC to say that not a single Indian politician is uncorrupt, not only does he say an untruth, but he does a lot of harm to India’s image abroad, and reinforces colonial prejudices and biases against a wonderful tolerant country and a talented people.
It is true there is a lot of corruption here and that politicians are sometimes dishonest. But if you take this present government, for instance, whatever its faults, you find a lot of its members do not take a single paisa for themselves, be it Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi or Fernandes (please go to his house in Krishna Menon Marg and see for yourself his lifestyle). It is very wrong to propagate the notion that Indians by nature are more corrupt than say Westerners, because it is absolutely false.
It is the system that breeds corruption here, the Nehruvian system to be precise, which may have stemmed from good intentions, but which in the end produced statism, bureaucracy and corruption. This system was meant for the poor, but now you need one crore rupees to be elected an MP, whereas officially, you are only allowed Rs 2 lakhs. And where will the politician, however good, willing and sincere s/he is, find one crore rupees, except in the pockets of industrialists who will later demand favors? The system has to be reformed. The people are basically as good and prone to honesty or dishonesty as other people in the world, whatever the color of their skin and religious beliefs.
Secondly, I know the likes of James Lyngdoh appeal, unconsciously, of course, to a certain Western sentiment of superiority and reinforce Westerners in their belief of the superiority of Christian monotheism versus Hindu polytheism. Christians still believe that Christ is the only true son of God and that all other beliefs — particularly those of the Hindus, who adore a multitude of ‘heathen’ Gods, are false. This is why Christian missionaries are even now at it in India, converting thousands of innocent tribals and Harijans, with the millions of dollars that gullible Westerners donate, so as to ‘alleviate poverty in the Third World.’
This unconscious sentiment of superiority of Christian culture over Indian culture also explains why the West likes to decorate Indians, who however brilliant and intrinsically good they are, propagate this image of a poor, corrupt, immature India, whether it is Amartya Sen, Mother Teresa, Arundhati Roy, or James Lyngdoh, three of them being Christians and the third one a Marxist who has adopted the Western way of thinking and life. Basically, they all have the same message: ‘Oh, look at this poor, corrupt, pagan India, who is not capable of looking after herself and is too immature to have nuclear weapons.’ This is why Western correspondents give so much coverage to Mr Lyngdoh and so little to more humble Indians who go quietly about their work, without trying to hog publicity for themselves.
But ultimately, Indians are to blame themselves. The Indian intelligentsia, particularly, which is very brilliant, but also highly Westernized, because the best education in India is Christian and imprints itself in many subtle and not so subtle ways on its students. If Indian newspapers and television channels would — while not being blind to India’s faults — be a little more positive and a little less cynical and negative about their country, people like Mr Lyngdoh or Mrs Roy would find it very difficult to function.
Indeed, if Indian journalists, instead of propping up Mr Lyngdoh as a paradigm of virtue, would instead point out that it is wrong and unforgivable to use his high office for propagating his biased views, things would start improving quickly in this great, generous and diverse country that is India.