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When the Cherry Blossom chose to sulk

Patricia Mukhim

November 8, was supposed to be a day dedicated to the ubiquitous Cherry Blossom that dot the Shillong Landscape. We were supposed to have a festival to celebrate the pink blooms. But this year they decided to play truant. The blaze of pink that run riot across the Shillong landscape by October end and early November were nowhere to be seen. And why not? Climate is changing isn’t it? The rains which started in March this year continued until October end. Normally it wouldn’t have mattered whether the Cherry Blossom bloomed or didn’t but then we decided to play God and to set the date for a something that is ordained by nature. That’s when things went awry.

Meghalaya is a state of festivals. You name it, we have it. But what are the outcomes? In fact the Department of Art and Culture should now be named the Department of Festivals. The problem with Government sponsored celebrations is that they fail to ignite enthusiasm. Only a few people connected to somebody that organises the festival and their bum-chums gain anything; that is if there’s anything to gain, other than the fun and frolic. Most often there’s too much hype and hoopla and people from outside Meghalaya are ready to cash in on the festivities and earn their bread and butter here.

As far the Cherry Blossom Festival is concerned, even Dr Mukul Sangma has to admit that it’s not an original idea. It was an idea sold by the Imphal-based Institute of Bio-Resource & Sustainable Development (IBSD), which was quickly lapped up by some of our senior bureaucrats whose imagination runs wild whenever someone comes up with an idea. Now whether there has been enough research to find out if Cherry Blossoms flower in a particular date or whether they will flower late because of the climatic fluctuations is not known. Climatewire a US based scientific journal predicted in March this year that the Cherry Blossoms would bloom early (between March 14-17 ) in Washington DC on account of the mild winter, the warmest February on record and basically no snow. 

Climatewire said many plants and trees, including cherry trees, rely on temperatures to regulate their biological clocks. Changes in the earth’s climate are wreaking havoc on many phenological phenomena like the blooming of flowers. While Cherry Blossom signify the onset of spring in America, for us in Meghalaya it announces the advent of winter. A 2011 study in the journal PLOS ONE found that by the end of the 21st century, if climate change continues unchecked, peak Cherry Blossoms could consistently arrive a month early in America. I have not heard of any such study in India. In fact the IBSD should have conducted its own research and delayed the date for the Festival this year but I guess they didn’t care less whether the Cherry Blossomed or not. Scientists too have their own interests to safeguard and their career graphs to build.

The point of this article is to urge this government and the one that’s coming in 2018 to stop investing in mindless revelry. Our youth are not all gung-ho about music, fashion and motor bike racing only. Quite a good number are struggling to establish themselves as entrepreneurs and they don’t find much support within the government establishment. Banks too are not forthcoming with loans despite all the slogans of Start-Up India, Stand Up India and what have you! The youth have a hard time finding start-up capital to fire up a new enterprise. One can imagine their frustration since employment in the government sector has all but dried up. And then they see government investing in fun and frolic by tying up with some wheeler-dealer who makes a deal out of every such Fest. It’s a sinking feeling! Government also tends to do business with people they are comfortable with and where the cuts and deals are understood without much ado. But Governments forget they are using public money which could have been put to better use considering that we are financially dependent on central patronage.

Today an anonymous letter arrived at my desk giving a blow by blow account of the corruption in the Health Engineering Wing (HEW) of the Meghalaya Government where an executive engineer and a businessman have worked out a modus operandi to spend money meant for original work into repair work. Hundreds of work orders below Rs two lakh are given without administrative approval. And the budget approved for the HEW is Rs 80 crore. It is learnt that the detailed project reports (DPRs) of projects are made in the residence of the businessman who operates in various names. Even the TB Hospital under construction is based on a flawed DPR. This is just one of the scams in Meghalaya. If one digs deeper there are many more. So why should the Cherry Blossom in such a dirty environment?

                 

Perhaps it is the nature of politics that it invites only dirty business. When bureaucrats see the sleaze that their political masters indulge in, they conclude, “If you cannot beat them, join them.” In saying this I am also conscious that there are a few diligent and ethical officers who continue to work despite the frustration they face while operating in a scammy environment. These few actually keep Meghalaya on track and prevent it from being completely derailed.

Politics in Meghalaya is such that it keeps people in a state of febrile excitement caused by this or that scandal or hatred of the moment. But it doesn’t actually transform life or even fill the void caused by bad governance. If politics has to get better, (if at all that happens), then we will need better myths that unify us and that are built on the pillar of social equality. When 76 % of the people of rural Meghalaya are homeless and our Government and the elite choose to live in denial then social equality is a dead and gone thing. Twenty years from now I don’t know how this situation will pan out.   

In Meghalaya we pay too much attention to politics and rely too heavily on politicians to meet our personal needs. This has led to a sort of idolatry where the politician assumes power over the one who begs for daily subsistence. No wonder the Khasis call politicians “Ki lei san snem” (the five-year gods). How can this excessive dependence on politics be displaced? Can we begin to think of the consequences before the entire society pays the price? We need to battle with this idolatry. We need to free ourselves from the attachment to individual politicians to whom we surrender our EPICs because we have taken money from them. The truth is that politics cannot be fixed by political means. It needs repair of the deeper community bonds that politics rests on, and which political conflict cannot heal.

As the election approaches people will be divided into camps. Partisanship will seep in and create enemies and also weaken social and communal bonds. Political partisanship will in fact take the form of a visceral and subconscious attachment to a party. In Meghalaya, unfortunately we have come to a point when politics is used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness. So much so that you cannot win people over with policy or philosophical arguments. Everything is shaped on a deeper level, through the parables, fables and myths that our most fundamental groups use to define themselves. Youth groups will start talking of protectionism and the ‘othering’ will begin in right earnest until elections are over and the next government becomes the ‘enemy” to attack.

Am I lamenting unnecessarily? Lament can be tiresome for readers. No wonder people term lamenting as a tiresome, indecent vanity. But I lament because I despair. Like the Cherry Blossom I too protest the indecencies of governance which seem too overwhelming to address.

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