Political Ideology and Meghalaya Assembly Election – 2013

By Recordius Enmi Kharbani

Much has been commented on the election in Meghalaya to be held on the 23rd Feb., 2013. One of the major issues that came up for discussion in recent times is the ideological basis of the political parties contesting the state assembly election. The point raised by Rev Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh in his article “Election 2012: Four Cs and No I’s (Issues and Ideologies),” (ST, 31, Jan., 2013), has much to be discussed. This point has been resonated by many political commentators prior and after the said article. Kong Patricia Mukhim in her article, “Elections 2013: Emotion-packed punches and political bitching” (ST Feb 8, 2013) did make a mention of it. Indeed, there is absence of ideologies and issues in Meghalaya’s electoral politics. Though different political parties profess great and pro-people ideals and promises, yet their manifestoes do not reflect a well formulated and strong ideology with long term vision and benefits. Development is prioritized as the sole issue on which every political party and candidate tries to win people’s support. Pyrtuh’s argument that the entrance of businessmen/women and the excessive role of money in elections have proved to be fatal for the proliferation of ideology in the state is worth substantiating. Or it goes the other way round – the absence of strong ideological basis in the parties has allowed space for money to play a deciding role, and provided fertile avenues for businessmen/women to control the state politics for their benefit. Politics in Meghalaya is not about issues of public interests and ideologies but it is more about doing business.

Before proceeding further with the discussion, a glimpse at the meaning and nature of political ideology would be a welcome pre-cursor. In its simplest sense of the term, political ideology is understood as a set of ideas, beliefs and values commonly accepted by the majority members of a society, accompanied by organised programs of collective action to materialize these to achieve certain commonly accepted visions and objectives. Liberalism, Conservatism, Socialism, Communism and Fascism are accepted as the major political ideologies in the world, out of which different adaptations spring up. Most scholars have agreed that ideology is associated with the concept of “class”. The class-character of ideology is perceived in the fact that the essence of its existence itself is to serve class interests. A close scrutiny on the mentioned conventional ideologies in the world shows that these ideologies exist to serve the interests of different classes in the society. For example, liberalism serves the interest of the bourgeoisie class; as against it, communism serves the interests of the working class. Maurice Duverger points out that political ideology corresponds to class attitudes. He observes that the division of European parties in the 19th centuries into Conservative and Liberal was the product of the opposition between the landed aristocracy and the industrial and intellectual middle class, while the emergence of socialist parties at the beginning of the twentieth century points to the entry of the working class into active politics.

Rev. Pyrtuh’s article lacks a clear cut theoretical setting on the understanding of ideology and it is devoid of class character of ideology. In fact, most writers purposely avoid the use of the term “class” while investigating ideology and other issues concerning tribal societies like Meghalaya, which indicates that the concept of class is not prominent or relevant in tribal society. In its logic, however, the Reverend has exactly spelled out the class character of political ideology. The range of issues mentioned, from land holding patterns, to welfare programs, to ethnicity, to FDI, etc., faced in Meghalaya are few yardsticks measuring class interests to which different ideologies, if ever existed, would have provided perfect solutions. Being a tribal dominated state, Meghalaya is supposedly known to be an egalitarian state, and the concept of class does not picture in its political processes. Therefore, looking from the above theoretical construct of ideology with its class base framework, ideology cannot exist in egalitarian tribal Meghalaya, or, the tribal character of the state would have invalidated the scheme of ideology itself. However, since the entry of electoral politics in the Meghalaya tribal society, ideology has been much talked about by both politicians of all political parties and political analysts.

The unsettled ambiguity about Meghalaya’s politics is that while ideologies are propagated by different political parties, there is no clearly defined, strong and stable ideology with a certain vision for the society. The only dominant national political party, the Congress party trails the national character of the party. It is, as C P Bhambhri observes, a party of coalition of classes under the hegemony of the national bourgeoisie which plays a role of the center in order to keep intact its coalition of classes. This quality has led to the lack of ideological clarity in the party. NCP is no different from the Congress party. The largest state party, UDP, the HSPDP, and other regional parties, while expressing their beliefs in serving the interest of the indigenous tribals, do not have strong, clear and stable ideology. They have from time to time betrayed themselves by allying with the Congress-led coalition governments, a party antithesis to their professed tribal centred ideology, thus proving themselves as parties not conforming to their ideology.

The ambiguity exists due to the fact that class character in Meghalaya society if at all existed, is highly diluted, not obvious and not visible. The members of the Meghalaya society still believe that Meghalaya is in the olden egalitarian structure and there is no big deal about the differences in economic position in the society. According to majority of North-East scholars, the newly formed middle class is the only visible class in North-East tribal societies. This class plays the role of the newly emerging leaderships against the supremacy of the traditional leadership and emerges as the group which benefits the most from the present political and economic condition in the state. The middle class in tribal Meghalaya however, has not been able to emerge as a cohesive class and its interests are not clearly articulated leading to divisions among its members themselves.

In the absence of a well-defined class consciousness and well articulated class interests, ethnicity/tribalism has become the centre of attention from especially the state/regional parties. All regional parties talk big about preserving and enhancing indigenous tribal interests. In fact, this ethnic composition of the society has contributed to the failure of class formation in Meghalaya. However, even tribalism seems to be not well articulated and is not well taken by the members of the society. This condition of ambiguity where no class consciousness can be articulated has resulted in a state of affairs where no ideology can proliferate. Giving a comparative analysis of state politics of the plains of Assam and tribal Meghalaya, Prof. A K Baruah of the Department of Political Science, NEHU, professed that party affiliation is much stronger and party membership is more stable in Assam than in Meghalaya because class consciousness is much stronger in the former as compared to that of the latter. Absence of class consciousness leads to absence of strong and stable ideology which in turn leads to absence of strong and stable party affiliation among people. A closer look into Meghalaya politics, tells us that party membership both at the higher and grass root levels are not strong and stable among all parties. Political opportunism is very much prevalent in the state.

In the state of deficiency of ideology, what will be the bases on which people will choose their representatives? Certainly few will vote because of party affiliation. Many will look for popular candidates who can propagate the best manifestoes and promises however shallow and temporary they may be, only to find them never to be materialized thereafter. Extra forces like money and peoples’ ability to win support through convincing speeches, and even physical forces become the deciding factor determining people’s choice. The best outcome of electoral politics without proper ideological basis is the formation of a disorganized, weak, unstable and non-performing coalition government by the so-called like-minded parties, or even the antagonistic parties as no party can claim absolute majority. It is predicted by the party leaders themselves, except Congress party, that no party will be able to form a government on its own. The largest regional party, UDP is eyeing at only 20 seats, much below the requirement to form a government in the 60 member house, not considering others. Many independent candidates who would trade their seats for the highest bidder will also be elected. There is a possibility of a new trend in Meghalaya where independent candidates may form a government because out of 355 contestants, 140 are independent candidates. But who bothers? After all election is just a monotonous exercise. It will not make much difference who wins and who governs as long as the present system devoid of guiding principles and ideology continues.

(The writer is a Ph. D student in the department of Political Science, NEHU).