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Dr Mukul’s predicament versus peoples’ expectations

Patricia Mukhim

It is not easy to be in Dr Mukul Sangma’s shoes at this moment. He has to explain to the High Command the steady attrition in the Congress Party and also assure Delhi that he will yet make it to the finishing line first. Both are tall orders.  The India Today ranking of small states is not a very flattering report card for Meghalaya. Among the ten small states which comprise Puducherry, Sikkim, Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Meghalaya, our state is last in the overall ranking. The indices on which the states were marked were law and order, tourism, economy, health, agriculture, education and infrastructure. Meghalaya ranks last in infrastructure and tourism. It ranks 9th in law and order, economy, and education. The state ranks 8th in health and 4th in agriculture.

We have always known that education and health in Meghalaya were two laggards in the doldrums but that we should feature at the last rung of the ladder in tourism and infrastructure was a bit of a shock. But the two are also interconnected. Meghalaya is poorly connected by air and not connected by rail. Hence tourism is still an expensive proposition for visitors on a shoe string budget. For the high end tourist, however, Meghalaya is a destination of choice. I don’t think we need to worry too much if that is the only indicator for poor tourism. But law and order is also connected to the growth of tourism. Puducherry has several plainclothes policemen in key tourist destinations and in market places. The state also has a Tiger Brigade – a patrol squad for the city and the suburbs. Perhaps these are lessons to emulate from Puducherry. The state has rounded up notorious trouble makers and history sheeters in 2017. The properties acquired through force and threat are being returned to owners or used for public purposes. Can Meghalaya adopt this example? There are many in our state that have acquired property through forceful means (intimidation) and acquired wealth through extortion. We know them but don’t have the spine to name them; far less to take action. This is the bane of law and order.

Now let’s take a quick look at Dr Mukul Sangma’s performance over the last five years. On the law and order front he has been able to contain street brawls, office picketing, bandhs and other blackmailing methods adopted by pressure groups. The Meghalaya High Court has, of course been instrumental in curtailing these hugely damaging activities which hamper tourism and governance. But the Chief Minister is accused of continuing to support his cabinet colleagues who have indulged in acts of improprieties such as the infamous education scam and the acts of commission by members of the Home Minister’s son. Being loyal to individual ministers is like treating Meghalaya as a family property. Not having the courage to take swift action has reduced Dr Sangma’s own credibility. It is easy to say that the law will take its course but we all know that justice is a long haul, not just in Meghalaya but in the country too. Dr Sangma is therefore hiding behind this easy alibi.

In agriculture we are far from being organic, going by the huge import of fertilisers and pesticides. In education the state could not come up with the medical college which has only recently been blessed with a foundation stone. There are no state run engineering colleges and no state university as yet. Health care or its limited reach can be gauged from the high fertility rate and poor nutritional indices of children and mothers in Meghalaya. Entrepreneurship is not yet developed and this needs a push considering that employment in the government sector is saturated. The Basin Programme is yet to meet its intended outcomes. The road condition has deteriorated most during this government. One very pointed allegation against Dr Sangma is that he has aggressively pushed all development projects to Garo Hills, more particularly to his constituency, Ampati. How Dr Sangma counters this will be interesting.

Overall, the MUA-II government can be certified to have generated much hopes and aspirations which have largely been unmet.      

Dr Sangma’s cabinet colleagues allege that he interferes in their department and does not allow them a free hand. Also that he functions like a dictator. To these allegations one can only blame the ministers who have neither weight nor substance to challenge their ‘Big Boss’ in cabinet meetings. Only weak and spineless people can turn an ordinary human being into a tyrant, a bully or a Boss.  Now those supine individuals have jumped to another party where they think they can wield clout. Really? Perhaps they jumped fences too soon. To Dr Sangma I would suggest he read the book, “Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust, by Adam Kahane. In the book one paragraph is strikingly accurate. It says, Enemifying, vilifying, and demonizing pervade the political discourse around the world. And we enact this enemifying syndrome not only in politics but also at work and at home. Each one of us does this enemifying bit by telling ourselves how other people are messing things up: colleagues, clients, and those who work for and with us. It’s always the ‘other’ who is the problem; never us. This enemying which feels exciting and righteous and heroic actually obfuscates the challenges we face rather than give clarity. It amplifies conflict and narrows the space for problem solving. It distracts us with dreams of decisive victory which cannot be realized, instead of helping us focus on the real work we need to do.  

In politics, at work and at home collaboration is both necessary and difficult. We all need to get work done which is important but to do so we need to work with people who view things differently than us. And the more important the issue and different the views, the more necessary and difficult the collaboration! The challenge with collaboration is that in order to make our way forward, we must work with others, including people we don’t agree with or like or trust. Such is the challenge in running a ministry and heading a government. And although collaboration is not the only option, the others being Force, Adapt, Exit, collaboration is by far the only way out in politics.  But the collaborative method must be creative enough to make others feel it is their idea too and it is to their advantage, rather than for one person to take credit for everything. Hence conventional collaboration does not work! This is where leadership comes in. A leader follows unconventional means of collaboration.

So what is leadership one might ask and what sort of leader/s does Meghalaya need? Was Dr Mukul Sangma a misfit as a leader or did the elected representatives he had to work with fall short of his expectations of transforming Meghalaya? Socrates envisaged rulers to also be philosophers and vice versa. Socrates’ prescription is idealistic in our situation because our elected representatives still need to grasp the meaning and purpose of philosophy. Sadly they want to rule us without any idea of democracy as a philosophy.  

One can empathise with Dr Mukul Sangma for losing hope in his ministers. He had given Health to AL Hek but the man failed to envisage the breadth of understanding that health care in Meghalaya demands. Health was reduced to working out an insurance package. The CM gave PWD to Sniawbhalang Dhar and that was a major error of judgment – a former PWD contractor then lorded over the Department! What a horror!  Earlier the CM gave the Power Ministry to Clement Marak. It was a disaster. Later the CM gave Power to Comingone Ymbon who has now deserted the Congress ship. Senior MLAs like Prestone Tynsong and Rowell Lyngdoh who lost their lucrative portfolios in the reshuffle naturally want sweet revenge. PN Syiem, the Mawsynram MLA has converted his differences with Dr Mukul Sangma over the one- man- one- post legislation into a personal feud. So Dr Sangma has several old and bitter enemies who would like to see his political epitaph written sooner than later.

Alas, none of these legislators actually care about the fate of Meghalaya and if one were to ask them to make a presentation on the road map they have in mind for this state, I am sure they will fail as miserably as they are clueless about such issues. They want to win elections and sit on the ministerial chair. That’s it! That’s their political vision. Hence for the next election it would be a good idea to have fresh new faces enter the political battle. We are so tired of the faded and jaded, been there, done that type of politicians and opportunists who will join any bandwagon where they see themselves as power holders, not as public servants.

Dr Mukul Sangma meanwhile should take time off on a Sunday and read the book, “Transforming Leadership,” by James Macgregor Burns. The author has analysed all kinds of leaders from Napolean to Hitler before prescribing what transformational leadership is all about. And this is the leadership we sorely need in Meghalaya today.    


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