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Election 2018: Fever or Fervour

By Patricia Mukhim

Each time we head for the state assembly elections there is a certain expectation that the next government will bring change. But what change? In which direction? And how will this change be wrought, is of course left to the imagination. Every person has his/her aspiration and idea of what that change should be. This is where a peoples’ manifesto produced by scholars with a research background, essentially from academia, after consulting a cross section of the electorate should ideally be brought out for public discussion. That’s the least that a university like NEHU should be doing. But NEHU is as detached as if it is located in Delhi or some outer space. In its 43 years of existence NEHU has not helped to advance our political and economic and social consciousness.

Granted that some seminal work on our traditional institutions was done by the Political Science Department but those are now dated the data needs refreshing. People, institutions and circumstances have changed, so the study is now passé.

What bothers me as an avid social media user who tracks conversations on different social media handles about the coming elections is that they lack depth and are at best raucous and at worse border on cretinism (full of pointless information that is senseless and appeal only to other cretins).This is troubling. You can count on your fingertips the number of sensible comments that aim at educating us because on social media you learn through engagement. In this scenario to expect a change in 2018 is to be a blind  optimist. Social media is a sounding board where young people spill out their anger and frustration but it ends there. They don’t look beyond the verbiage and don’t know what to say next. The posts regurgitate around corruption and how everything has failed.      

It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, “A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.” So what is what is the character of the voters in Meghalaya? Are they really committed to voting candidates who can serve without turning politics into a lucrative business? I am reminded of Larken Rose who said, “Politics is the art of using euphemisms, lies, emotionalism and fear-mongering to dupe average people into accepting–or even demanding–their own enslavement.” I believe this is where we are at. There was a time we voted for those who injected fear through communal riots and said they would save us from exploitation by non-tribals. That was the late 70’s and early 80’s. After that we got wise and realised that the non-tribal was not the enemy. But some continued to sound that same bugle so the regressive Inner Line Permit (ILP) was trumped up as an instrument to save us from ourselves. Again elections were won based on that slogan. Now we are wiser still but we still aren’t sure what issues to vote for.

The challenges before us today are legion and these have been repeatedly listed by this writer. But on Thursday when I walked down the MES Road (Umkaliar) down to Nongmynsong and saw the huge pile of garbage for which no one owns responsibility and then saw Nicholas Kharnami of Pla Iew fame holding a placard with a Question Mark, I realised that GARBAGE must become an election issue. Let’s not pretend that we are too sophisticated to discuss garbage. Speaking English, singing heavy metal and dressing well does not make us civilized. How we manage our garbage does. And if you ask me then plastic bags will be the undoing of Meghalaya. So my question to the elected 60 is why are they shying away from just banning plastic bags and all kinds of food products that come in plastic containers? Meghalaya can no longer deal with plastics. Plastic garbage will overwhelm us and we will all die because we will be inhaling methane gas.

Coming to the elections, I am amused by those who are jumping ship now and blaming chief minister, Mukul Sangma for the backwardness, if not the complete failure of the government. Can I ask all those ministers what they were doing up until now? Did the CM prevent them from serving the people the way they should have done? Is it not true that these jumping jack flashes were busy making money on the sly and when their departments were taken away they started sulking? And to Mr Nalin Kohli and KJ Alphons, I would invited you for a debate with all of us. Please do not lecture to people who can’t talk back. We know exactly what ails Meghalaya and neither the BJP nor the NPP or the Congress will be able to redeem us if the same old guys contest the 2018 elections. Corruption is not going to vanish just like that.

As far as Dr Mukul Sangma is concerned there are a few things he deserves credit for. After he took over, the pressure groups taking up selective issues have not been able to hold the government to ransom – a feature that was common to Meghalaya in the past regimes. We have had almost no bandhs, courtesy the Meghalaya High Court directive putting an end to this culture of political blackmail. Dr Sangma is one of the most well-informed politicians in the country, who can take on Messrs Kohli and Alphons on a one on one debate. But look at his cabinet. Is it inspiring? Are his ministers as well –informed or well read about issues? Well, we know better. There are coal dealers and contractors and businessmen all engaged in creating wealth for their families. None of them are interested in governance. I wonder if they even understand the nuts and bolts of governance. They are elected because they paid the voters. That’s it.

Dr Mukul Sangma is accused of driving the government lorry alone. Whose fault is this? Why are the ministers unable to challenge him on governance issues? Why do they crib outside the cabinet? And now when the Congress Party is down and out they are abandoning the sinking ship and need only an excuse to do so.  

Dr Sangma’s flagship programme – the Meghalaya Integrated Basin Development Programme will be dropped like a hot potato the moment another political dispensation comes. There have been problems in the execution of this programme. It is meant to bring convergence between departments because at the grass-roots that is what how things actually work. People need water, health, roads, livelihood all in a package. They find it difficult to deal with too many departments. They need a single window agency but departments want to operate in silos and they are the biggest enemies of this Programme. It’s true that the Basin Programme also spent a tidy sum in importing all manner of consultants whose credibility is questionable and whose contributions have not been evaluated. What are the outcomes of those numerous visits of experts in entrepreneurship? How many entrepreneurs has the Basin project created? Is there a figure we can go by and confirm?

The CM is too busy to drive the Basin Project. In fact, he has been lagging behind in the Medical College projects too. And the biggest grouse against him today is (a) that he allowed the roads of Meghalaya to deteriorate to the point of no-return (b) that he has no plan to restructure the MeECL which is likely to sink under its own weight (c) that he has not been able to come up with a coherent policy for Education and Health. Now it’s high time to capitalise the MeECL and privatise it. This capitalisation will also inform the people of Meghalaya the net worth of the assets that MeECL holds in today’s market price.

To those who believe that the Congress is still strong because it has units down to the lowest denominator, I wish to remind that people of Meghalaya don’t vote for a party; they vote individuals. And there are people who don’t vote for money. In the last election people voted Jemino Mawthoh who actually had no money to buy votes, which his rival had. The Congress is as strong or as weak as the candidates it chooses.

Elections mean more than just voting 60 people, some of whom will form the  government. There are deliverables that need to be met by all 60 MLAs. How was the MLA scheme of Rs 10 crore spent? Can any MLA give a report card? Why are MLAs spending over 70% of the Rs 10 crore in buying CGI sheets? Is there another CGI sheet scam in the offing? We need to dig deeper into this!  


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