Leadership, a vanishing trend

By Toki Blah

Recent developments within Meghalaya be it the rise of Judicial activism and intrusion of the judiciary into the exclusive domain of the executive; the attitude of the administration vis a vis its lackadaisical response to the mining disaster at Ksan, East Jaintia Hills; the 100 crore NGT fine imposed on a delinquent State Govt for facilitating illegal mining, have to a very large extend laid bare and exposed the lack of leadership in our state. This shortage of leaders is confined not only to political leadership but cuts across all aspects of life in this state of ours, be it social, religious or traditional. If we are true to ourselves and if one were to introspect then can we today truly identify any social leader or any civil society organisation or NGO that commands respect and admiration across the board? There is none and even youth and student organisations which one would like to associate with the future of society fall well short of public expectations.

Of faith based organisations and their leaders, the behaviour is more akin to the three monkeys that hear nothing, see nothing and speak nothing. They refrain from speaking out freely and fearlessly on burning public issues and there is yet to emerge any denomination that can truly claim respect and esteem on a multiethnic basis. On the traditional front we have the village durbars, the traditional pool from where the Khasi Pnars or the Garos looked for and found leaders. Today due to neglect, Govt apathy and the intrusion of party politics and money into these traditional bodies, the emergence of leadership from this source is more of a rarity than an event to look forward to. One can therefore safely conclude that the pool of leadership within the state is as empty and bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard.

While classifying the different types of leadership groups within the state one has to accept, perhaps with a great deal of reluctance and shame, that as a society we have more or less entrusted the entire notion of leadership in the hands of politicians and the political class. This is not surprising as this is the mechanism, identified and endorsed by the Constitution, on how the people of this country are to choose and elect those they wish to lead and govern. Let me hasten to add that there is nothing wrong in having politicians as managers of society; nothing wrong in parties or individuals attempting to push ideas, ideologies or manifestoes as the answer to mankind’s worries; nothing wrong with politics or political aspiration. The desire to lead, guide and direct one’s society to a better future is often the noblest of all ambitions. Absolutely nothing wrong in that. The blemish begins when the wish to serve is missing. The flaw starts when the ambition is simply to come to power by any means foul or fair. The rot begins when power is then used for furthering one’s own self interest. The tragedy for the state and its people commences the minute political power is not earned but instead, bought. And that Dear reader is what is sadly happening in the state of Meghalaya. We have political leaders who buy their way to power, few who deserve the right to be called a leader.

            In defence of the deficiencies mentioned above, supporters and sponsors of purchased leadership, and there are many especially in Meghalaya, have in turn put the blame on the voter and the electorate. What can the poor politician do when the electorate is poor, illiterate and basically unemployed and when it is the voter himself who demands cash for votes? Under the circumstances what is wrong if the poor politician, desperately contesting to win an election, yields to the demands of a greedy insistent electorate? (Hap sngap ia ka Sur u paidbah!!) Well if electoral polling is simply to win an election and to seize power then, nothing wrong. If however the electoral process is a mechanism to serve the people then the above arguments for ‘purchased leadership’ falls flat on its face.

The electoral process is simply a bidding process and the amount involved an investment for future economic benefits to the highest bidder. Politicians and their supporters will condemn the above statement as malicious, misleading and spiteful. In defence allow me to plead that the abnormal rise in the useless, ambiguous and unaccountable MLA scheme, from a mere 30 thousand in its initial phase to 2 crores per year in 2018, amply justifies the bidding charge. People contest MLA elections to get access to a 10 crore Govt pocket money. Elected leaders are introduced to an in-house process of corruption. No accounts needed. No transparency called for.  Most unspent MLA funds are then ploughed back to purchase votes during elections. We all know it happens.  In view of the above it is no wonder that the political system finds it beneficial if poverty continues; if illiteracy flourishes and if unemployment remains the lot of the electorate. It serves the interest of the ‘purchased political leadership’ system. The tragedy is that we all support the system come every election.

From the style of leadership identified in Meghalaya there is urgent need to ask whether as a Hynniewtrep people we have the quality leadership that is required? We sadly have to admit that as a community we just don’t have it. If leadership is simply all about distributing money; if it is about comical and nonsensical political posturing; if only it were constituted by unfounded and highly imaginary lectures on our glorious past then many would be entitled to believe that Khasi society is awash with individuals with valid claims to leadership. As mentioned earlier we have so called political, social and religious leaders floating around in our midst. It is however a self centred leadership which seeks to service and benefit only its own members and not society at large. It is an inward looking exclusive leadership that judges only by the limited yardstick it believes in. So do such leaders really lead?   Do they really lead or are they individuals who simply exist to be led – by the crowd; by the mob and by emotionally roused members of the group? If we are honest with ourselves we will admit that a deep social flaw exists in our identification of leadership. It is this flaw that has adversely affected our choice of leaders when the time to elect leaders arrives.

So who is a Leader and what do we mean by leadership in contemporary Khasi society? In Khasi we call a leader -U Nongialam. As per the Whitehall type of Parliamentary system that we follow, an elected leader is called a Representative. In Khasi a representative is a Nongmihkhmat and it literally means one whose mandate is simply to show his face on behalf of the clan. To mihkhmat is simply to perform a social obligation. A nongmihkhmat is simply there for formality’s sake and he is not expected to say or speak on any important issue.  U Nongialam on the other hand is a Rangdajied of the clan, a person especially identified for his leadership qualities be they courage, wit, eloquence or wisdom. He speaks on behalf of the clan and the community. He is chosen because a Nongialam is a person who dares to dream, have a vision and translate that vision to reality. One prime quality is to convince others of his dream.

Within documented Khasi Pnar history we only have U Kiang Nangbah, U Tirot Singh Syiem, U Soso Tham and perhaps Rev JJM Nichols Roy to qualify as Ki Nongialam. Within recent contemporary history we have opted for representatives (Nongmihkhmat) and true to form most of our representatives prefer only to be seen and not heard in the Assembly. Leadership however should not end in the mere act of getting elected and occupying a seat in the State Assembly. Leadership must have a dream and the dream must have some sort of promise for the led. As of today our   interpretation of leadership is – one who can give assurance that there shall be no change from the past. That tradition is rigid and we shall survive only if we do not change tradition. That the past will always remain supreme as it is the only promise for our survival. The future is always full of doubt, fear and apprehension. It holds neither promise nor Hope. Those who revere the past become Ki Nongmihkhmat. Problem is we have 36 Nongmihkhmats but no Nongialam! Question therefore is – Can we still continue to vote for people with no vision for the future to become our leaders? Something to think about in 2019.


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