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Do People Get The Leaders They Deserve?

By K L Tariang

In less than three months from now Meghalaya will go to the polls for election of  representatives to the State Legislative Assembly. Many who have  participated in the process soon after the state was created have done so with the fond hope that  positive  changes   will come. This is   what actually motivates the citizens to participate in the elections although there is also a sense of pessimism which pervades because down the years the changes as perceived by them have fallen short of the expectations or  have not materialised. This time however  many may   also   feel   humiliated  if  they  have  to  drive or walk on the prevailing dilapidated roads towards their respective polling stations. It is unfortunate that even long established roads have today fallen into disrepair. This leaves  them   with the uncomfortable  thought  that  these we  may be regressing instead of progressing. The situation is quite upsetting for the elderly voters as they may have very few  opportunities left  to  participate again in the polls before their innings are over and with  the unending hope of positive results for their efforts.

Roads are usually the prominent index of progress and development. Their reach and satisfactory  condition  would encourage  further expansion of activities  which contribute towards further growth and advancement. However, if the road condition is poor and there is  lack  of urgency to overhaul them  then it  would certainly be a hurdle towards expansion  of such activities which could otherwise be  nourishing  opportunities. The recent report  in a local newspaper that a  tourism  development initiative   at Shella  village   may   be adversely  affected by a road hurdle is a case in point.  Ironically , this old and much used road leading towards this village comes under the LA constituency of a  veteran and prominent political leader of the state. This therefore leaves us with the thought that the roads   in other constituencies  of the state  under less  known  leaders  could  perhaps be in  a far worse condition. Consequently  if many  roads are in poor condition then one can conclude that  the other  less  pronounced but   essential public  facilities   and  services   could    be inadequate too  and therefore there could be disappointments  here as well.

One  certainly cannot expect the best of everything and we have learnt to live with such  disappointments because, for one,  we are a patient lot and  secondly we  are  accommodative enough to adjust  with any shortcomings  because we believe that these  shortfalls occur due to prevailing complexities within the system  even though these may be self created. Nevertheless, under whatever circumstances, it would  be  expected that  many such disappointments  should have been  eased  to a reasonable extent  by now, more so  by this present  government which has had a  long period of  stability  under a single continuous leadership. If  instead   the results are   contrary  to the expectations then it does rule out  government  stability   as  one of the   contributory factors towards good governance and efficient  delivery as often asserted. Conversely  it   could  be  that such   stability   has not been    effectively capitalised  upon  by those in the present government  to  especially foster collective  thoughts  which  would otherwise  provide  constructive and meaningful proposals towards positive outcomes. Hence it could be an opportunity lost which may never be regained.

When such  disappointments  occur, it is but natural  that  those at the helm  of affairs   in  government  will  face public ire since they have  the  mandate to deliver the public goods  and that too suitably. However, there is a growing realisation  now  that the  representatives  from  the opposition  parties down the years  and  presently  also cannot absolve  themselves of blame either. While their  raising of  public issues during the short Assembly sessions  is laudable and criticisms made individually  as  reflected   in the media reports are appreciated, we expect them to be more aggressive on the ground  by taking  along   the people with them  whenever  necessary,  to take on the government on its failures. These aggressive steps should  not necessarily be only  at the fag end  of their term  before the elections. An aggressive opposition reflects sincerity of purpose and also changes people’s  perception  of their  seeming indifference  if any  because,  they are likely to be in government too  where they are  also  expected  to effectively deliver.

Meanwhile, speculations are also rife as to the reason for this poor aggressive stand  as  opportunism   post election is not ruled out since politics does make strange bedfellows. There had been instances  when opposite sides fought against  each other   before   the elections   only to reconcile soon after  and  join hands to form the government ostensibly in the interest of the people. But there are ambiguities as  to what people would gain from such post –electoral coalitions.

From  what  is assessed lately , it appears  that there is a growing disillusionment with our leaders regardless of which side they belong to. What is seen as their  inefficient delivery has  certainly  led to a sort of pessimism that  things will not change for the better  but probably for  the worse  after  every election. To be too idealistic and optimistic  that  change for the better is around the corner  is again unrealistic. For many, democracy  is still  seen  as  a once in five year electoral jamboree without realising that it should instead give space for vigorous public reasoning and for expanding  public understanding of issues involved, where  grievances   should be widely   aired. Moreover,  if  the demand for societal  needs is superseded  by  the  demand for   personal needs   as  expected  in a society where  people are  subjected to  depraved economic situations then this  will  be exploited  to the hilt by those who  continue to seek power but  who in the first instance are  responsible for such an  unfavourable   environment. Above all, it could be our own complacency,  indifference , lack of cohesiveness  and   our failure to hold our representatives accountable during their term which contributes to what we perceive as apathy on their part instead.

Under  the prevailing atmosphere  one  wonders  sometimes  if    Joseph de Maistre, the French scholar, lawyer,  and diplomat in the eighteenth century was right when he  said, “In a democracy , people get the leaders they deserve,“ or could  there  be  a veiled meaning to the statement which is  beyond other interpretations .

In the light of what has been stated above, we have to consider whether the call to educate , organise  and  agitate in a democracy  would assume significance. Education is a prerequisite as only then can people organise themselves in a more guided  and  meaningful way. But there is still  a lot of distance  to cover  in order to make the reach of  refined  education  universal. It  is  also still vague and incomprehensible as to  whether or when such a goal  will be  reached as it is not  certain  if    the  present  approach towards this  is on target.  As  such    any organisation which   intends to  delve   wholly   into  the  realm  of activities  mentioned  will  have to explore new territory  where the road map is not always  reliable.

Considering  the  complexity  of  the matter ,  it is  uncertain as to  what the immediate future  holds    but as of now, to vote or not to vote in the election is not the question since we still need representatives  regardless of who or how they are. In any case ,it would be unfair to tar all  of them  with an unflattering brush  because  there are  representatives  who  are  public spirited , hard working and highly competent. These will  be more  responsible  and productive if we have democratic  engagements  with them  especially on matters concerning the larger good . We  hope for more of such representatives to emerge and that the   two way  relationship  is  strengthened   through  a greater use of informed  and systematic reasoning  about the most important needs of the people. As the saying goes, ‘amidst dark clouds and drenching showers there will also be unblemished sunny days which we can take advantage of.’


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