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Peoples’ dilemma in Meghalaya’s electoral politics

By Fabian Lyngdoh

In 2017 there was an anti-Mukul and anti-Congress wave which swept across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Politicians, rangbah shnong, social organisations, et al, were all involved in the fray; the voice was for regional parties. Then by the beginning of 2018, an anti-BJP and anti-RSS wave also swept the land. The simple folks are continually advised to vote for a good party and to elect good and capable candidates who can deliver the private and personal services to the people, as well as capable of performing their roles in government. But, the capable and sincere, as well as the illiterate, the goons, the crooks, and the selfish businessmen were found from every party contested the elections. It also seems that in this State, every aspect of achievement lies only through involvement in electoral politics. So, we have in some constituencies, as many as nine to ten candidates with an average of six candidates per constituency.

The people had to face the dilemma of choice. Shall they vote on party grounds, or shall they vote on the personal criteria of the candidates? The Khasis seem to have voted both on grounds of aversion for the Congress party, and on grounds of fear of the BJP, but with no consideration of leadership in sight. Ultimately, the choice in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills was on the personal criteria of the candidates. For example, the people of Pynthorumkhrah voted for A. L. Hek, and the people of South Shillong voted for Sanbor Shullai, not for the BJP. These two gentlemen would have won the elections even if they had stood on any party ticket. These are the main reasons why we had a fractured mandate in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills.

Let us observe the following scenario in the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills, where only four MLAs crossed the 50% mark: M. Ampareen Lyngdoh (INC) secured 10368 votes (59.98%), and defeated her nearest rival by 6074 votes; Kyrmen Shylla (UDP) secured 20,285 votes (58.82%), and defeated his nearest rival by 8181 votes; Mohendro Rapsang (INC) secured 10288 votes (53.68%) but defeated his nearest rival by only 1984 votes; Lakmen Rymbui (UDP) secured 14766 votes (50.09%) defeated the nearest rival by 2631 votes. Taking the tribe as a whole regardless of constituencies, Kyrmen Shylla secured the highest support of 20,285 electors; Lahkmen Rymbui comes second, with 14,766 electors, Brolding Nongsiej (UDP) comes third, with 13,520 electors (41.69%). In all, we can say that M. Ampareen Lyngdoh was truly elected in terms of margin and in terms of percentage, but it is only Kyrmen Shylla who was elected by the majority in terms of number of voters, in terms of margin, and in terms of percentage.

     Except Sanbor Shulai (49.07%), Sniawbhalang Dhar (49.16%), and Kimfa Sidney Marbaniang (47.71%), all the other MLA’s were elected by much less than 50% of the electorates. The total number of votes cast in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills is 9,83,256, while the total number of votes cast for the winning candidates is 3,77, 387, which constitutes only 38.38%. The total number of votes which were not cast for the winning candidates is 6,05,869, which is 61.62%. Hence, in average, the present elected MLA’s in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills were elected by only 38.38% of the adult population while 61.62% did not vote for them. There are also MLA’s who were elected by less than one-fourth of the electorate, such as Dasakhiat Lamare (NPP) who secured 6365 votes (22.46%) and won with a margin of 204 votes, and Nujorki Sungoh (UDP) who secured 6691 votes (22.89%) and won with a margin of 260 votes.

     It is not my intention here to say that those who are elected by less than 50% of the electorate are not legally or constitutionally elected, but just to point out the loopholes of the electoral process prevalent in our system of democracy. These MLAs are validly elected as per existing law even though they may have the mandate of less than one-fourth of the people they represent. But legality apart, in the truest sense, people’s representation based on the mandate of a minority group is unjustified. Mention may be made here of the social philosophy of the philosophical radicals, like Jeremy Bentham, which is based on the principle of ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ as the only rational guide both to private morals and to public policy. Even this principle of ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number,’ is debatable as unjust. How much more unjust would be the situation of ‘the greatest happiness of the miserable minority against the majority?’ The 61.62% of the electorates would not feel at ease with the elected MLAs. Hence, we see so much spitting and biting on social media.

     It is easy for an elected MLA to pay lip-service by saying that since he/she is elected, he/she belongs to all and would serve the needs of all equally. But the hard fact that had generally been proven is that the bitterness and hatred that was brewed in the election campaigns would last till the arrival of the next elections. The party leaders who campaigned wholeheartedly for the candidate would form a formidable shell around him/her after he/she has been elected, and would also function as a screening committee to certify genuine voters as worthy beneficiaries for various schemes from the MLA regardless of being rich or poor. Socially and materially, happiness is not in abundance, though spiritually it may be unlimited. Hence, there can be no greatest happiness for all that politics can provide. Tribal traditional politics on the other hand, was based neither on the greatest happiness of the majority, nor on the greatest happiness of the minority; but it on consensus, which means, on the ‘mean happiness of all.’ So, for real justice, there needs to be reforms in the electoral process of Indian democracy.

One year ago the whole Khasi tribe (jaidbynriew) seemed to be against the Congress Party and the leadership of Dr. Mukul Sangma, and all out for party ‘riewlum’ (regional). But ultimately the tribe voted more for the Congress Party and the NPP than for the local regional parties. Today, all eyes are on the United Democratic Party, and everyone says that it holds the key to the honour of the tribe and began to dictate how and with whom it should align to form the government. But the tribe, indeed, elected only six MLAs from that party! This indicates the situation of a society that has lost its principles and direction. In the Garo Hills too there were six candidates per constituency on the average, but the Garos are wiser and made choices mostly between the Congress Party and the NPP on grounds of leadership. So, whatever the Khasis may think and react; they may raise fire, heat and dust, but in the present situation, the Chief Minister would only be a Garo, because unlike the Khasis, the Garos already had leadership-based choice in sight.

     One spectacular observation about this elections is that the ultimate choice of the people can no longer be bought by money. However, a new phenomenon has emerged, and that is, since the youth groups have become more active politically than the elders, the elections would become costlier, not because of the need to pay money for personal votes at a determined price, but for organising lavish festival-like campaigns, beginning with the first mega rally of a concert type, where hundreds of vehicles, large and small, had to be provided for the mobility of the crowd. Then there is a need to heavily finance the lavish and fashionable daily movements of the various levels of leaders and campaigners in the party hierarchy, and for the daily triumphal processions of three to four hundred vehicles from village to village for a period of one month or even more. Interspersed within the campaign period, are a number of sub-circle rallies which should be as lavish as the first. Besides these planned programmes, there is also a need to pay for the seemingly unending lists of picnics, religious functions, sports events, excursions, etc. And finally, the campaign has to be concluded by another Megadeth-type concert of music and dances not for strengthening reasoned and informed choice, but for raising mass emotional hysteria that might last till the moment the voters press the button on the EVM.

The whole exercise, even the modest one, would cost not less than rupees three crore. In today’s elections, every candidate, winner and loser with no exception, spent huge sums of money, but we are all hypocrites if we deny that. What the future holds in store for us, only time will tell!

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