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NPP on a quest for majority: But how much is too much?

Patricia Mukhim

Last week I took a break from these columns to get a perspective on society, the rise of identity politics and how all have combined into a heady cocktail. There is also the politics of appropriation and by this I mean the propensity of some groups to believe they represent the public voice although they are not elected representatives. Messages are sent around to convince people that the group/s is/are concerned about the Jaidbynriew ( the biggest scapegoat) and its longevity or its disappearance from the face of this earth. The bartender for this potent cocktail, of course, is the smart phone which currently can start a war just with a single inflammatory message. This politics has been around since Meghalaya was created in 1972. But then we did not have swift messaging systems. What we had then are groups professing their profound love for the ‘Jaidbynriew.’ If you love your people you don’t need to shout from the rooftops. Those who do it are looking for political capital. The groups don’t practice what they preach, more so in terms of public disclosures on their sources of funding. Those who have jumped into the political bandwagon are found wanting in sincerity and delivery of public goods.  

But let me not digress from the caption. When the MDA Government came to power this year after a hectic electoral contest we all breathed a sigh of relief. Change was what we wanted. Barring a few, those in the present MDA ministry seem to mean well. They appear, at least in the eyes of many, to be responsive to public pleas (the Goralane road repair for one; there are others too). On July 3, the closure of the Behdeinkhlam festival, Deputy CM, Prestone Tynsong and four of his cabinet colleagues left the venue and walked to where their vehicles were parked. Only the Governor’s entourage had the siren blaring when he left the Festival venue. This is a rare gesture from the ministers. Such gestures though symbolic speak volumes about the intent of the MDA Government to reach out and bring CHANGE.  

But certain decisions of the National Peoples’ Party (NPP) – the Party that leads the MDA Government –to lure disaffected MLAs from other political parties and to reward them with lucrative posts for resigning from their parent party is a clear case of political inducement. Martin Danggo has resigned as MLA of Ranikor, ostensibly because the previous Government of which he was a part of never upgraded his constituency into a civil sub-division. Incidentally the distance between Mawkyrwat the district headquarters and Ranikor is roughly about 44.9 Kms and takes nearly two hours to commute. Ranikor is a C&RD Block until now. If it takes the public to  commute a total of four hours to and from the district headquarter at Mawkyrwat which means  losing half a day until they get their work done, then a civil sub-division is called for; not just for Ranikor but for all Blocks with similar distances from the District Headquarters. The sanctioning of civil sub-divisions on a piece-meal basis and on the basis of politics is neither correct nor ethical.

But the question uppermost in our minds should be whether the creation of these administrative units with the hugely misleading hyperbole, “Taking the administration closer to the people,” is even possible and I will cite reasons why. Most of those selected to the state civil service are urbanites with no idea of what life in the outback of rural Meghalaya is really like. It is the elected representatives that draw the attention of the Government to the poor road communication between the district headquarters and the far-flung villages. Many of these villages are still very poorly connected and we are about to observe the half century as a state. This is enough indication that governance will continue to be served only to those that are able to physically come to the Block Headquarters. I know from speaking to villagers that this is a wretched experience, more so when they are up against officers that are arrogant and lack the attitude of service. The Meghalaya Basin Development Authority and its manifold wings were created mainly to bridge this governance gap. Young professionals are picked up and appointed on contract basis but are they from these villages? Are they not again the English speaking, urban bred elite with no understanding of rural development? This is why the yardsticks for measuring aptitude of field operatives need to be more nuanced. You don’t want to appoint people who just wait for the day when they will return to the comfort of Shillong. As it is, quite a number of state civil service officers have succeeded to pull strings to remain out of rural postings. Those without clout, mostly the male officers tend to do rural postings. But even they are reluctant to serve in some of the remote outposts of Garo Hills, for instance.

Meghalaya’s progress to date is mainly because some of the IAS officers have served their tenures sincerely. I can name quite a few who reach out to the people and try and comprehend what ails their daily existence. Recently pictures of the Deputy Commissioner of West Garo Hills eating a midday meal with school children and also wading over rice fields to see what farmers actually go through are what real administration is about. I can’t imagine English speaking, stylishly decked officers with no experience of village life ever succeeding in public administration. Hence the idea of creating civil sub-divisions can also be self-defeating because while the staff will be recruited and paid salaries, their ability to meet the aspirations of the people of that administrative unit will continue to remain unsuccessful unless new modes of governance are tried out. The purpose of every Government is to innovate better ways of reaching out to the unreached.          

Coming back to Martin Danggo, he was until the other day a Congressman who like his other colleagues is uncomfortable about being in the Opposition. The Congress is a spent force in Ranikor after Danggo’s exit. In Meghalaya people don’t understand ideology; they follow   individual politicians for different reasons (I would not like to term politicians as leaders because leadership is a different ball game). The UDP candidate, Pius Marwein who came a close second in the February 2108 election lost by 455 votes only. It is natural that he would not cede any ground to Danggo even if the UDP is an alliance partner of the MDA. And here lies the rub! The UDP unit of Ranikor now wants to garner all the anti-Danggo forces including the Congress to defeat Danggo; the parent party thinks differently.

What happens after the Ranikor election will be interesting. If Danggo loses, the NPP would have lost its opportunity to shore up its numbers. If he wins, the UDP, I suspect would continue to be part of the MDA coalition. But what we cannot fathom is why PN Syiem who lost the Mawsynram seat would want to jump into the Ranikor fray, unless it is an egotistic game of political one-upmanship. People who jump constituencies do so for selfish reasons. There is no public concern in such political moves.            

Martin Danggo is very sure of winning back his seat but even if he doesn’t he has looked after his personal welfare. Being Co-Chairman of the State Planning Board comes with pay and perks and perhaps cabinet minister status too. This sort of political chicanery is what has put Meghalaya in a very unfavourable position as far as the Human Development Indices (HDI) is concerned. What is unfortunate is that the NPP-led MDA Government is allowing such a game to be played purely for political reasons. Don’t they know that the state is above party politics? Are we all to be turned into political pawns?  

Since March this year when the MDA Government took over the reins of governance, barring the Education policy not much has been heard on policy formulation in other areas like Health, Tourism, Agriculture, Horticulture et al. Those in Government perhaps have no time to think of these fundamental issues since their time is used up in the aligning and realigning of political forces. And speaking about creating civil sub divisions which is Danggo’s raison de etre for quitting the Assembly let it be made clear that this should not be an end in itself. It is a means to an end and requires several areas of convergence of varying departments before people can benefit from a civil sub-division. Period!  

Also the MDA Government needs to recognize that repeated elections cost money which flows out of the public exchequer; not the political party’s coffers. There is also a huge cost in terms of human resource deployment. The Ranikor example defies the norms of democracy.       

 

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