We voted for Change: Now where did we lose Change?

Patricia Mukhim

The MDA Government came to power with the promise of change. After years of Congress (mis)rule or bad governance we thought the MDA is an idea whose time has come. We actually believed that like Narendra Modi who connects with the masses, the incoming Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Conrad Sangma too would lead the change. But as they say, the more things change the more they remain the same. We have the same overloaded security apparatus for the CM and a little less for the other ministers. It costs a lot to the public exchequer to keep an entourage of police guys on the payroll to guard the life of one person – the CM – which we believe is not under any kind of threat. Lesser mortals, especially women and children are raped and murdered and the law always falls short when it comes to protecting us the people. And if the reason for joining politics, (as is often touted by aspiring politicians at every platform), is to serve the public and not to amass personal wealth and to acquire a larger than life status then the creature comforts should be disbanded. The CM should lead by example. Walking only one day – World Environment Day 2018 – is not good enough. In fact, the NPP which is the main stakeholder in the MDA Government is a key partner of the BJP. Its leaders should learn from the BJP karyakarta how to connect with peoples’ aspirations. Let us also remember that Modi’s constant attack has been against the naamdars of this country or the dynasts – his beta noire the Nehru-Gandhi family and others in the Congress Party.

We may not agree with the BJP’s ideology or with Prime Minister Modi’s style of functioning but we cannot deny that his Government has tried to reach out to the last mile. For the first time the poor were receiving subsidies in their bank accounts. Ujjwala Yojna – a scheme where millions of women from the poorest categories are now using gas cylinders for cooking thereby reducing their drudgery and their inhalation of smoke during the course of cooking, has proven to be a major game changer in terms of better health benefits. Then there is the health insurance for the poor which has also been much talked about. True that in five years it is difficult to overhaul the juggernaut of seven decades and of a bureaucracy that is resistant to change but Modi has tried. He has ensured that non-performers are weeded out and allowed lateral entry into his ministry.

PM Modi’s ability to transform the Indian election into a presidential form with the twin syllable ‘Modi, Modi, Modi’ reverberating in the rural landscapes of the country also signals an end to dynasty. Dynasty encompassed a system of entitlement, patronage and greed that had become part of the Indian political ecosystem for over six decades. It’s a different matter that political dynasties are not the prerogative of the Congress Party and the Nehru-Gandhi family alone. Closer home we have the Sangma dynasties ruling the roost. One set of Sangmas include former chief minister Mukul Sangma, his brother, Zenith Sangma, his  wife Dikanchi D Shira and daughter Miani Shira who are all MLAs. The other set includes brothers Conrad and James Sangma and their sister Agatha Sangma who recently won the Lok Sabha elections. And we call this an egalitarian tribal society? Hell no, this is as feudal a society as any other Indian mainstream society and the people who elect these dynasts too are fawning vassals at the service of their lords and masters.

It is not lost on Mr Modi (a man with his pulse on the political goings-on in the country) that Meghalaya is the first state in the country where two brothers elected from the same party are holding the two most important portfolios. Yes I am repeating the cliché – Conrad Sangma is Chief Minister and his brother James Sangma is Home Minister. Granted that the HM is the most demure we have had in a long time and that he leaves all the talking to his younger brother, but is that good governance? So when the HNLC – a proscribed outfit- makes an open threat to eliminate the Sikhs in different parts of Meghalaya and they even cited an example of how they eliminated one in the past, it is the Police Chief and not the Home Minister that speaks out and warns the HNLC. It’s a different matter that the Home Minister is on a vacation in Europe! Wow! Is that part of the package of being a minister in Meghalaya?  So what if our economic indicators are all going south!

My point is that a vacation for a Home Minister is a leisure he has not earned. He is not on top of things as far as law and order are concerned. Nor is he in command and control of the Power Department – another additional responsibility loaded on to him. This is a Department that requires reconfiguration and must prune its flab if it is not to sink to the point of complete collapse. We the people demand that the Power Minister make public the profit and loss account of the MeECL. If this is a Corporation then its balance sheets have to be available for public viewing. The public of Meghalaya have the right to know how the money recovered from their bills is utilised. We need to know the in-house power generation capacity now and how dependent we are on NEEPCo. If we are heavily dependent on this national PSU   then it is better we outsource the entire power distribution business to it and wind up the MeECL like we have done with other failed PSUs.

My second point is that this Government acts in fits and starts and does not have a comprehensive road map and nor does its partners the UDP, HSPDP and the PDF demanding one. Please note that the regional parties had their separate election manifestoes when they went to the public before the elections? Are those points in the manifesto being addressed or have they all merged with the NPP manifesto? If so then they owe an explanation to the public. Regional parties please do not mislead the people who voted you, for the next time around you are looking at a real drubbing. People might prefer to vote a national party, knowing that regional parties can never form a government without a national party.

Now going by the laundry list presented to the Finance Commission recently, which totaled a mind boggling amount of Rs 82,815 crore for the next five years, the priorities are heavily skewed in favour of the PWD – a money making department if there is one. Health as usual gets the least attention. The demands include Rs 4,956 crore for roads and bridges, Rs 2,476 crore for power, Rs 2,199 crore for sports and youth affairs, Rs 1,114 crore for water supply and sanitation, Rs 1,048 crore for law and order, Rs 957 crore for education, Rs 580 crore for health and family welfare. One would have thought that health would figure as priority number two or three considering the state fares very poorly on the nutritional index and in maternal and infant mortality front. Alas! Where indeed is the CHANGE we voted for? But may I remind those in the Government that we are a state with a growing number of poor people and when we see politicians flaunting their royalty status we can get very angry.

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