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LAUGHING (AND CRYING) WITH MEGHALAYA’S BEST

By Avner Pariat

If you can look past the obvious tragedy, the antics of our beloved political leaders are actually quite hilarious. Take the example of the National People’s Party for instance. Firstly, what separates this organisation from being just a Congress B team or BJP B team? If you look closely at their manifestos these guys seem to look suspiciously like the Congress and yet as we all know they depend on the BJP for support (financial and otherwise). Such is politics as we have come to know it today. It is tragic and yet comedic as I said in the start. However, have we ever asked ourselves why this is the case? Why do all these guys from across the political spectrum seem confused and befuddled about the way forward? Nothing they do seems to have a popular impact or to be of real long-lasting value. One of the major reasons as I see it has to do with the fact that these established political parties are obsessed with being “winners”. By this I mean that all these groups are more interested in winning elections rather than actual politics. If it always seems that they have a bad case of myopia it is because they are not really interested in politics. Real politics is left to the executive i.e. the bureaucracy. Politicians are just “face showers” (nong(pyn)mihkhmat).

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When all you care about is winning, you will do whatever it takes to win. You will not care about legacy or beliefs, you will only care about winning at any costs even if you manage to stay in power just for half a term. You will take money from dubious people, you will call anyone who can make you win (no matter how chequered their reputation might be) and when they are there, you will do whatever they want you to do. This is as true for the NPP, BJP, INC as it is for the local parties. But this is an empty politics. And is intensely selfish and deeply Machiavellian at its core. The politics of “winning” is also a politics that immediately favours the big over the small, the rich over the poor. After all, such a politics can only be fought and won when you have the richest, the loudest, the biggest as your champions. This is the politics that the BJP and INC have taught us and it is readily lapped up by different regional and sub-national organisations throughout the length and breadth of this country. If we were to categorise our politicians based on the key consideration of political beliefs, I would have to say that we’d scarce have more than 4 or 5 professional politicians. The rest are either hell-raisers who must always be the centres of attention, sweet boys who spout beautiful words from their perfectly moisturised lips or the low profile types whom you never hear about and who are more interested in accruing personal wealth through their office.

In an environment lacking any real politics, what can we say about our predicament today? Well it is (and will probably continue) to be dominated by people who excel at making issues out of non-issues and who exist solely to rile people up. This is because they have no vision about the future and so react to what is happening now. This is hardly the goal for progressive politics which must be at once transformational and aspirational. A politician without a vision is like a fish without a tail: useless and doomed to drown. I know what you’re thinking. How can I say this when most of the ‘tailless’ politicians are all thriving and continue to enjoy success? Well if we continue to believe that what we are looking at is politics and not a farce then there is nothing left to say. Vaudeville substitutes for debate, a circus has replaced the political arena. I call it a circus because the people therein act like clowns. But don’t take my word for it:

  1. “ What will you do about the problems faced by farmers?” <incoherent babble> Suddenly someone across the hall shouts “I have a PhD!”
  2. “Alexander the Great came to Nongkhlaw now take this ambulance.”

I am paraphrasing of course but these are events that actually took place and I must say that these are fine examples of Absurdist literature.

Another one says, “ India will be celebrating 150 years of Independence.”

Now that is all fun and games but there are real problems too. As a policeman, if you penalise an MLA for wrongful parking you get beaten up. If you are a taxi driver and can’t get out of the way of a politician’s envoy, you get beaten up. These events also took place but no one was laughing. Abuse of power is so common these days that we have grown thick hides and shrugged it off as customary. But was this always the case? Gone are the days when politicians brought people together and in doing so attained a certain immortality. Most of the leaders we have today, sad to say, are easily forgotten. That is why they rush to get their names on various marble plaques and foundation stones. Because secretly inside they know no one will remember them otherwise. Do we regard Gandhi as a great leader because his name was on a marble plaque then? How many foundation stones did Ambedkar have in his lifetime? Even our own JJM Nichols Roy didn’t have his name next to every footpath or building. So why do we still remember such people after all these years? Simple. Because they changed people’s lives. Sometimes directly through laws and their work but more importantly they made people re-imagine the world around them in a totally different way. They infused Hope into the people around them and together they changed their world.

How many of these current leaders do that? Does Sniawbhalang Dhar bring you hope? Does Metbah Lyngdoh? How about the CM, Conrad Sangma? I know you will say it is too early to judge this government but I am asking you about how you feel. Do you feel like these people (and those in Opposition) will bring light to dark times? May I remind you that our unemployment rate is terrifying, our economy is stagnant and our educational standards are failing. Mainstream politicians today are more interested in coming across as damage controllers rather than genuine change bringers. And there are many problems to this way of being. Foremost, the ship (Meghalaya) is sinking. It needs to be overhauled completely not held together by cello-tape and driven around. That means we need people who are brash enough to do the dirty work of overhauling. This is why we need people like HS Shylla who are clamorous, but of course more introspective, reflective, insightful, thoughtful, calm, humble, peaceful, slightly self-deprecating (did I mention calm?). Anybody can be trained to go harangue a crowd and raise their spirits for a little while but Hope grows within and it doesn’t need reminding all the time. Hope drives people ahead on their own accord and doesn’t need a stick to shepherd them around.

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