Politics in Meghalaya is a boy’s club so do excuse me for butting in. Matriliny is good for decorating the private domestic space. And yes women are secondary players in this game only if the men “allow” them to. In the leading political parties, also led by men, the poor women candidates never had a chance. It’s alright for the men to lose even if they were considered “winnable” candidates but for a woman it has to be ensured that she has a 100 per cent winning chance before she is “given” the party ticket. And this is true of all political parties from the Congress to the BJP to regional parties. Most women had to contest as Independents.
And then we have curious researchers coming here to ask, “Why in a matrilineal system do you have so few women in politics?” Frankly speaking, I am so tired of answering this clichéd query that springs out of complete ignorance that outsiders have about this matrilineal culture. Matriliny is a curious system. Here men circumscribe the woman’s space very intelligently and have defined it as a “privileged space” as long as women play by the rules of this misleading social structure. The day women step out and get into the rough and tumble of politics, which again is a circle of influence by, of and for men, they are seen as trespassing that space. Interestingly so ingrained is patriarchy here that even women will not vote for other women. But I say hats off to those 31 women who contested although only three came out successful! May your tribe increase and may you break all ceilings, glass, steel and patriarchy!
Now let me now come to the nuts and bolts of this election. Out of 361 candidates in the fray this time only 59 are supposed to win the elections so in a sense all the 361 should have been prepared for failure since electoral behaviour is the most unpredictable human behaviour. But since no one fights to lose so it’s natural to hit out at voters and stereotype them after one has been defeated. Defeat is a nasty feeling. It is bitter and hard to deal with. But life has to go on especially if you are the leader of your Party. Hence most of us were surprised by Ardent Basaiawmoit’s letter of resignation from the Hill State Peoples’ Democratic Party (HSPDP). The reasons he gave were equally absurd. First, that the UDP the coalition partner of the HSPDP never consulted the party while naming Conrad Sangma as the Chief Ministerial candidate. Two, Ardent is sulking because the two HSPDP MLAs refused to leave the coalition after they were told to do so by their President. One of them was sworn in as minister! Those of us who know Ardent Basaiawmoit also know that he has several virtues but also not a few quirks. He is prone to being dictatorial. The Khasis don’t believe in this sort of leadership because like it or not we are all leaders in our own right with the President being only the first among equals. We have the example of the MUA Government that has just demitted office. While the Garo legislators accepted and continue to accept Dr Mukul Sangma as an uncontested leader because they believe in his leadership qualities, it is the Khasi-Jaintia legislators who found it hard to tolerate his “overbearing” style of functioning, although they themselves added very little to the quality of governance.
Leadership is not easy. And political leadership even more treacherous! The leader must be tough to keep his house in order (please note I am using him/his here because this is an all-male government) and to run the government at the right speed so that development is not hamstrung. Once the results are declared, political parties have to quickly get their act together and stake their claim to form the government in order to prevent horse trading (although that cannot be altogether prevented). The longer the delay in government formation the greater the scope for fragmentation of MLAs and political parties! So I think the UDP leader, Donkupar Roy did well by rounding up his flock and trying to form a non-Congress Government. That was inevitable considering the UDP fought the election on an anti-Congress plank. So too the HSPDP! And among the non-Congress parties the NPP came in with the highest number of seats so the coalition was inevitable. Ardent Basaiawmoit as the team leader should have also done the same and ensured that his two MLAs got a good ministerial berth. Instead, Ardent held a press conference expressing his disaffection at the UDP and his own flock as well. This is unprecedented! Basaiawmoit has forgotten that those two candidates won after a hard fought battle and their decision too must be respected. But perhaps the HSPDP President is still battling the after-effects of his own defeat.
Basaiawmoit also made an issue of a Garo becoming Chief Minister. Then he toned it down to, “Why should a non-elected member be made CM?” The counter question is, “Why not?” Mr Basaiawmoit, the Constitution of India says an individual who is not a member of the legislature can be considered as the Chief Minister provided he/she gets himself/herself elected to the State Legislature within six months from the date of their appointment. Failing which, he/she would cease to be the Chief Minister. And considering our own internal, communal prejudices, it is just as well that Conrad Sangma is the CM because otherwise, I can guarantee that the Government will be as shaky as a crooked ladder.
Now having been installed in the seat of power, the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) needs to hit the ground running. There are many areas of concern which are spill-overs from the previous government. Meghalaya has been functioning without policies in key areas such as Education, Health, Tourism, Industries, Information Technology, and Agriculture and above all Mining. Each of these areas requires certain expertise which I can say with certainty is not vested with the bureaucracy nor the political executives only. They need to get scientists, academicians, educationists, health experts, mining experts et al in the manner that NITI Aayog is functioning. Mr Conrad Sangma would do well to dismantle the monolith called the Planning Board which is a graveyard for failed politicians. In 2008 late Mr PA Sangma headed the State Planning Board and started an exercise that would have given Meghalaya its much needed policy guidelines. Unfortunately that government lasted only a year. A failed institution should not be allowed to continue because it means repeating failures. The Meghalaya Economic Development Council must be shaken up and economists from within and outside must be taken on lien to give the government a template on what are Meghalaya’s economic strengths that need single-minded pursuance. What is our brand equity? What do people remember Meghalaya for? It’s world class turmeric? Its tourism destinations? Its pineapples? Its honey which apparently has no traces of anti-biotic? What? Let the economists identify the brand and get the government to work on each one on a time line. The rural populace has to be active stakeholders in this process since they are doing the grunt work
This government must put a stop to the rent-seeking regime of fly-by-night business persons who are here to take advantage of our naïveté and our greed. But that’s not to say that there are not enough rent-seekers even amongst the local tribal populace. Conrad Sangma knows how revenue is pilfered through toll gates. As Opposition they have done enough research on that to write a thesis on. So that’s the first leakage they need to plug. The quantum of coal that was illegally transported since the NGT ban and which was allowed by the State Government is phenomenal. Much of that ill-gotten money (minus the regular taxation routes) was ploughed into the recent elections. The NGT is adrift because it does not have an efficient oversight system. We will be watching to see how the MDA tackles this challenge. The best way forward of course is to come up with a Mining Policy and turn coal mining into a legit business.
Last but not least, let this Government take stock of its bureaucrats. How many from the Assam-Meghalaya cadre are now in Delhi? Did they join the Delhi Administrative Service or the Indian Administrative Service? Why are so many of them trying to escape to Delhi? Is the IAS only about enhancing careers or about service to the state they are empanelled to? Sometimes we take these things for granted. But unless the small loopholes are plugged the leak will only get bigger.
On that note we wish the MDA Government a smooth take off and hope it steers clear of turbulence. In the land of clouds one never knows when the Cumulonimbus will hit the carrier! Safe flight!