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A willing CM under compulsion

By Albert Thyrniang  

A fractured mandate and a hung Assembly was predicted. Even a coalition in line with the current formation was foreseen. But no one expected Conrad K Sangma to be the new Chief Minister. Perhaps not even the CM himself. “Expect the unexpected” goes the saying. Although not a bolt from the blue but there was an element of surprise when the news broke out that the second son of PA Sangma would be the 12th Chief Minister of the state. The reason for the surprise was simple. He did not contest the Assembly election.

Prior to the election to the 10th Meghalaya Legislative Assembly there was an oral agreement between the ‘Khasi Hills NPP’ and the ‘Garo Hills NPP’ that the CM would come from which ever region fetches more seats. With 11 to 8 in favour of Garo hills, the names of Agatha Sangma and Thomas Sangma were speculated on social media. But the UDP, with the blessing of the BJP, had other ideas.

Predictably the UDP, by cocooning itself in Khasi Hills since its foundation, won just six seats. However, it became a kingmaker. The Congress, who rushed leaders from the national capital, offered the UDP President, Donkupar Roy the Chief Minister’s Chair but the determination to keep the Grand Old Party out of power made it a non-appealing proposal. The NPP too might have been willing to let Roy occupy the heat seat but he refused, knowing full well that he would not be able to keep the coalition together for long. Therefore, the UDP proposed Conrad as the new CM. Conrad had no other option but to accept the proposal.  

HSPDP, a pre-ally of the UDP under Regional Democratic Alliance (RDA) tried to derail the process of government formation by blaming the UDP for not wanting Prestone Tynsong as CM. Alleging betrayal and UDP’s arbitrary choice of the CM, HSPDP’s president, Ardent Basaiawmoit issued a directive to his two MLAs not to join a government with the BJP as a partner. When Samlin Malngiang and Renikton Lyngdoh Tongkhar defied his diktat, Basaiawmoid resigned.    

So the coalition government under the banner Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government was born. The five constituents are NPP, UDP, PDF, BJP, HSPDP with the support of two independent legislators and a lone NCP member. Its leader is NPP National President, Conrad K Sangma. Currently an MP, Conrad was sworn in as Meghalaya’s latest Chief Minister on March 4. As destiny would have it, the London and Pennsylvania University educated young leader was chosen as CM on March 4, the second death anniversary of his father. At 40 he became the youngest CM of Meghalaya.  He adds to the envious record of being the youngest Finance Minister of the state in 2008. It is also a record that a father and son have become Chief Minister of the state.  

Though under compulsion the former Leader of the Opposition showed no sign of unwillingness! Though some dubbed him as a Chief Minister by chance he did not display any reluctance. Once he was chosen he was ready.  He faced the media and public confidently. He assumed office in earnest and he seemed eager to turn things around. Conrad announced to be the solution rather than engage in blame games for the ills of the state. Prior to and post the swearing in ceremony he spelled out the priorities for his government quite comprehensively.

Before coming to the priorities a look at the stability aspect will be of interest. The Chief Minister himself has admitted that it would be a challenge to lead a coalition government. One look at the conglomeration does have instability written all over it. The HSPDP MLAs might have joined the coalition, but the forthcoming meeting of the party will be crucial. Will the party be officially part of the MDA or not? If it does not endorse the action of its two MLAs what action will be taken against them? Will they be expelled? Will it affect the stability of the government?   

The PDF has threatened withdrawal from the ten day old government if the BJP throws its weight around and interferes in the functioning of the government to the detriment of the state. More and more displeasure will be voiced by the five partners whenever dissatisfaction arises and whenever demands are not met. Besides, it is quite evident that the coalition was sewed up for the single anti-Congress and anti-Mukul agenda of the MDA partners. So, the prediction, based on past experience or otherwise, of its fall sooner than later is understandable!

Directly linked to stability is the composition of the Council of Ministers. The Cabinet is dominated by East Khasi Hills (5) and Jaintia Hills (4). The whole Cabinet is represented by five out of eleven districts. Garo Hills has only two ministers including the Chief Minister. This has upset the western region that, geographically and demographically, makes up almost half of the state. The discontent will only increase.

The unhappiness of legislators who are not part of the cabinet has already shown up. Just after three days of its existence, 12 political appointments have already been made. The Chief Minister lamented that the treasury is empty and appealed for fiscal discipline but the latest decision will likely result in financial wastage. In the past, chairpersons and vice-chairpersons contributed little as public undertakings remain sick. The present appointees too will unlikely change the fortune of these ailing enterprises. 

The opinion on instability is only academic if the Chief Minister makes the coalition work and steers it to its full term. For now, the willingness of the new Chief Minister to lead the state is more important to be noted. He showed it by the way he articulated his priorities. Rightly, his main focus will be on good governance. Governance is a complex and all-encompassing concept that comprises formulation and implementation of policies, decision making, accountability, transparency, participation, rule of law, equitability and inclusiveness. As the Chief Minister said he will ensure prompt decision making, sincere implementation, robust monitoring and accountability mechanisms.    

Key areas that will get the attention of the news government include infrastructure particularly roads as many villages remain unconnected and maintenance of existing roads are pitiable.  Agriculture and tourism will get a boast to improve livelihood and generate employment. 

The new Chief Minister did not forget to mention education and heath as the crucial social sectors. He is concerned at the neglect of the teaching community – the backbone of the education system and the state of education in the state. Teachers had to often hit the roads for their dues and the level of education has fallen sharply. Primary education is at an all time low. MBOSE has been in the news for controversies. Leakage of question papers and results, the various goof ups and more recently the poor quality and costly text books with mistakes and misinformation galore do not enhance the image of the Board as a body of excellence. The government has to restore the dignity of teachers and improve the level of education in the state.

We have also read reports of primary health centres without doctors, nurses and medicines. Patients have to travel miles on rough roads with limited financial resources for proper care. The previous government did implement concrete schemes in the health sector which benefited the citizens. The new government could continue with the good initiative and should be willing to do more.

The Chief Minister also said that his government will focus on the whole state and not on a particular area. This is pleasing to the ears but as pointed out earlier the imbalanced representation of ministers tells the contrary. The dominance of the most developed district will continue to be a curse in the state. I do not see any statesman who thinks beyond his constituency. East Khasi Hills or Shillong centric ministers will remain so geographically and mentally. It is another matter that ministers like Martin Danggo, Rowell Lyngdoh and others from rural areas have kept their districts backward though they had the opportunity to significantly improve their lot.

With the glomour of the swearing in ceremony now a history, the new Chief Minister faces real and multiple challenges. The state appreciates his willingness to govern the state differently. But gradually he will be judged by the indicators of good governance that he himself has set for his government.

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