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Will political parties derive lessons from AAP?

Editor Shillong Times.
Editor Shillong Times.

By Patricia Mukhim

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is about political change. But sceptics say that AAP is a flash in the pan and time will prove its staying power. Others believe that what the AAP has accomplished within a year of its formation is a political breakthrough. It’s not so much about AAP as the disaffection of people against the conventional political parties that gave Kejriwal and Co their victory. Having had to put up with the unbearable hubris of the political class, the people of Delhi have spoken through their votes. The electorate here too is filled with despair at being let down time and again even by those who had raised their hopes sky high. In Meghalaya, however, the urban folks will hardly make a difference. We are a minority and can at best elect eight MLAs. The 52 others are elected by those away from the capital city. They have been accused of selling their votes for money. Not that the urban voters don’t barter their votes for money, but, going by the electoral results of Nongthymmai constituency last year, many voted with their head and heart, both. Nongthymmai was a vote for change; for a new face; a new promise, even if the party (UDP) is tried and tested.

Enlightened voters feel that we don’t need the AAP here to revolutionise voter behaviour. What we need to push for is the transformation of the character of the political class and to borrow some of the political ethics of the AAP, its austerity measures and its disdain for the frills of office. Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma has rubbished the austerity measures and the red beacon, VIP culture. But if the voter could upset the apple cart of Sheila Dikshit, the longest serving chief minister of Delhi and one of the most benign faces of the Congress Party and her cohorts, then they could very well do the same in Meghalaya by the next elections. Dr Sangma is young (although he has been around in politics for two decades)and has a long innings ahead. He should be more circumspect in voicing out his thoughts because ‘attitude’ is what galls the common person. Humility on the other hand is endearing and the Chief Minister should, by all accounts set an example of austerity here in Meghalaya where about 66% of the electorate are very poor and not assured of two square meals a day.

While the urban voters get carried away by the sharpness of intellect of their MLAs/ministers, the rural voters now want action and delivery of the promised goods. During the state assembly elections last year many rural voters took money from all candidates but voted whichever way they wanted. Hence money may not work any longer. I hope MLAs and wide-eyed MDC wannabes including those seeking re-election for the second or third time realise this. The time to take their constituents for a ride is now over. Word is spreading that they can demand change from the legislators and councillors and that they have a right to development. They also know that populist schemes like MNREGA are short term palliatives which have no answer to poverty reduction, much less poverty alleviation.

The Government of Meghalaya has articulated an ambitious multi-livelihoods scheme called the Integrated Basin Development and Livelihoods Programme since 2011-12. Chief Minister, Mukul Sangma believes that a single livelihood cannot pull people out of the shackles of poverty hence several livelihood options centred around river basins and catchments might be the answer to the Meghalaya’s rural poverty. We are yet to see the results of this Programme except that the number of fisheries (ponds, lakes etc) have expanded and people have started producing fish for sale in the markets. The Fisheries department is working overtime to ensure that Meghalaya becomes self sufficient in production of fingerlings. Meanwhile those whose staple diet is fish await the day when they can buy locally produced fresh fish and not be forced to consume ‘denatured’ fish coming all the way from Andhra Pradesh. We hope that time comes sooner than later. Last year there were two occasions when fish were sold at designated places. Can we expect a daily catch soon and local fish vendors outsmarting the much frozen Andhra, Lucknow or Allahabad fish?

The IBDLP envisages expansion of tourism to rural hamlets. While this has just started, the scope is immense. There are home-stays now in and around the Southern slopes of Meghalaya close to Dawki. But rural tourism should be so modelled that the urban elite is not the promoter. The locals should benefit from tourism. Besides, rural tourism is such that it cannot have too many footfalls in a given place on a given day because that destroys the peace and serenity of the village and the villagers. It then becomes intrusive tourism that benefits only a few in the village. Mawlynnong is a classic example of an overrated village that, to my mind, is on the road to destruction because of the inability of the villagers to regulate the footfalls.

Successive governments have concentrated on urban Meghalaya at the cost of the rural backyards. Naturally the urban migration rate is very high and has created its own cycle of disenchantment. Any sensible government would concentrate on setting up high schools and colleges and even take the universities closer to the people rather than have them all with addresses in Shillong city. And do we have state of the art hospitals elsewhere but Shillong? You can see the pathetic health care system when you watch ambulances rushing from all over the State to Shillong and from Shillong to Guwahati. So many precious lives are lost en-route. In 42 years there is not one good private health care centre in Jowai or Nongstoin, leave alone the newer districts. All patients pile up at private hospitals in Shillong and now flock to NEIGRIHMS.

We don’t need to look too far to see how skewed development has been. All our MLAs, no matter which rural constituency they represent have a home in Shillong. They are occasional visitors to their constituencies and we expect things in the villages to change? It is the same with the MDCs. Development in any case has never been the agenda of the elected of Meghalaya. Development is a happenstance. The first and topmost priority is money making. Let’s take a survey of all the mansions of the MLAs/ministers and we will know where our money has been deposited. Not to forget that some officers of our State have been equally venal and shameless.

Meghalaya has a big population of youth. Often the youth of a nation are termed as its demographic dividend. In our case they will be a liability because our Governments have never seriously considered the youth as a building block for the future. They have only mouthed rhetoric. All those who are in politics today do not even have a road map for engaging youth more meaningfully in livelihoods skills. I have stated this ad-nauseum that the Department of Sports and Youth Affairs does not have a vision beyond sports. How many young people can earn a livelihood from sports only? Many more need entrepreneurial skills and very consistent hand-holding and counselling in Youth Development Institutes which we do not even have in Meghalaya.

If political parties here believe they can continue to con the electorate whether in the upcoming District Council or the Lok Sabha election, they will be in for a great surprise. People are impatient, frustrated, angry, cynical and aware that they have been short-sold time and again. Many have opined that political parties of all shades now need to reinvent themselves and get real. People are fed up of seeing an MLA with nothing before being elected suddenly climb up the wealth rank like an acrobat. They will deliver their verdict sooner than later. What’s happening in Delhi is spreading rapidly thanks to the television and newspapers. Believe me what’s happening in Delhi will produce a surge in vehement libertarianism. Passion has a mystique of its own. It invites total involvement. Look at us when we are watching football. If we can curse and swear over football and the passion is transmuted into frenzy, then there is indeed a passion in our DNA. We could use that same DNA to demand our rights.

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