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Are we going to experience change or be chained ?

By H H Mohrmen

In the recently concluded election to the state assembly the common slogan of almost all the political parties except the Congress was ‘Change.’ But change is such a complex idea and peoples’ comprehension of it also varies from person to person and from one group to another and change can also be at different levels. What one considers as a major change can be superficial or insignificant to the other. What some people call change others will explain it with the common saying, ‘it is the same old wine in a new bottle.’

A large section of the population in the state welcomes the new Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government with a young new dynamic leader as the Chief Minister. The common hope is that the new government will bring change in the state and that is exactly what we are going to debate here. Can the MDA really bring change? Or is it a change for the sake of change only? Or is it a change with no significant change in the offing? So how do we see this government or at least the new cabinet that has been installed? How will they fare, will be the appropriate question that we need to delve in here?

Let us begin by looking at the cabinet. The members of the cabinet can be easily categorised into the fresh entrants and the old hands. The freshers will still need to learn the rope tricks and with some of them having bare minimum education, the task ahead will be challenging, but the old hands are the cause of concern. The question is whether the senior NPP leaders can bring change to the state at all, keeping in mind their past history.

Most of the senior NPP legislators who were also allotted plum portfolios where the same legislators who have defected from the Congress at the eleventh hour of the last assembly. Add to that they were also part and parcel of the last MUA cabinet under the leadership of Dr Mukul Sangma. So the question is whether in such a circumstances we can expect change to happen. The old saying that it is difficult to teach old dogs new tricks and that a leopard will never be able to change its spots, are ideas which make one sceptical if change will ever happen in the state with the kind of ministers that we have. 

Call me pessimistic but the way I see it (to be fair to Conrad) is that it is going to be a tough job (if not impossible) for him to lead a coalition government and bring the much needed change in the state. The analogy that my mind conjures when I think of Conrad K Sangma and his cabinet is that of a pilot of a commercial aircraft, his crew and of course the passengers. Like a pilot in the airliner, it is the duty of Conrad being a leader of the largest constituent in the coalition government to see that the aircraft has a smooth take-off and landing and that’s about it.

Nobody has any (not even a slightest) doubt that Conrad will be able the steer the jet till it reaches its destination in 2023 and safely land the airplane on the tarmac. Conrad has all the skills and the capacity to take care of all that is happening in the cockpit from take-off till landing, but it is not about piloting the aircraft only. Conrad may have all the desire to bring change and the good intention to make that happen, but it is the entire journey that matters. What happens in between the take-off and the landing is in fact the most important part of the air voyage and unfortunately that is not directly in the hands of Conrad but the ministers. The responsibility of providing a good service to the passengers lies in the hands of the crew members and it is the air hostesses and the stewards who have a hand in making the journey a memorable and a trouble-free one.

Now does Conrad have the guts and the luxury that his predecessor Dr Mukul Sangma has to call a spade a spade and take to task unproductive and non-performing ministers of his cabinet? Does the coalition government that he leads give him the liberty to do so, or does he have the freedom to ground and replace his crew member(s) midair? It is indeed a challenge for Conrad to lead an effective government not only because it is a coalition government but because his cabinet comprises of the old faces that are difficult to change and the new comers who will still take time to learn the tricks of the trade.   

The coalition already has a problem with Ardent Basaiawmoit resigning from the office of the President of the HSPDP because the party was not supportive of its MLAs joining the coalition government with the BJP as one of the partners. This time the casuality is on the other side of the coalition divide, but there is no guarantee that next time it will not have an impact of the MDA itself.

It is also an open secret that a certain family has three MLAs who are also members of NPP and it is also known that the family has a huge business interests. So will the MDA government be able to guarantee that it is not going to playing favourites towards Dhar Construction Company and ensure fairness in allotting government contracts? The Company already has unfavourable track records hence the public will have to wait and see the kind of change the Conrad- led government will usher in especially when his government’s major thrust will be on infrastructure development.

Will the coalition partners give Conrad a free hand to introduce new changes in the state? The PDF already made it public that the party will not allow BJP to interfere in the function of the MDA government. But unfortunately, no sooner had the party made its concerns public when Himanta Biswa Sarma in his interview claimed that it took him only ten minutes to seal the deal with the regional parties to form the new government in the state of Meghalaya. Isn’t this a clear case of BJP directly interfering with the government formation? Now will the PDF withdraw its support from the MDA government? That is a million dollar question.  

Conrad is also taking about ensuring financial prudence in his government but only the day after he allotted portfolios to his cabinet colleague, the government issued a list of all political appointees in the state government. How will the government be able to ensure fiscal discipline when only on the third day of the government MLAs were accommodated as political appointees and this will definitely burn a huge hole in the public exchequer.

NPP has been talking about change but we are yet to see change taking place. Or is change only election propaganda because even during the election the NPP is the party which had indulged in financial extravaganza. Mega rallies were organised left, right and centre and not only conveyance fare was paid but even food was provided and as one of the MLAs has publicly admitted – even drinks were provided for those who were not served food, which also means that though food was in short supply on that particular rally, the latter was not. No doubt the MLA has apologised for making the statement but the truth remains that organising rallies does not come cheap.

If the NPP is serious in bringing change to the state, it should start with trying to change the system itself, but unfortunately the NPP is only patronising the continuation of the existing system. Better still, if the party wants to bring change it should start from within, but unfortunately we don’t see that coming either. If we want to have a corruption-free state we should do away with corrupt practices, but we do not see that happening in the existing system. It looks as if instead of bringing change to the state, the government had only succeeded in chaining us to the past. Nevertheless we wish Conrad K Sangma all the very best and also wish him bon voyage!

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