Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Politics, governance and the common man

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By Toki Blah

The Abode of Clouds or Meghalaya was born out of a sincere belief that the wellbeing and future of the Khasis, Jaintias and Garos would be better off if placed in the capable hands of their own elected representatives. The whole Hill State movement of the 1960’s was towards this end. Writers like Kong Janet Moore recall with nostalgia those heady days of hope; an exercise of confidence and faith on leaders we believed were capable of delivering this dream. Aside from the belief that we had leaders upon whom public trust could be reposed there was also the cocky self confidence, that as a people, we were quite capable of providing for ourselves and for our children, the good governance so necessary for our every day lives. Forty years of statehood and today we have little to justify that initial confidence. From all indications and day to day experience of its citizens; from unbiased and independent reports, Meghalaya has emerged as a failed state! Governance or any resemblance of it is nowhere in sight. Politics, political parties and politicians as symbols of leadership have failed to live up to expectations. A dream has been shattered, turned into a nightmare. A question has to be answered. Who is to blame for this mess?

A justifiable question since the continuous state of bad governance has impacted negatively and adversely on one and all and people do have a right to ask. On second thoughts however, with the question, also dawns the realisation that it’s not a new question. It’s something we have been asking ourselves, perhaps in our heart of hearts or in the privacy of our sitting rooms, for the last thirty years or so. It means that as a community all of us have not been unaware of Meghalaya’s downward slide. If so, what did we do about it? Sadly, nothing! If Politics, political parties and the political system were identified as the main reason for this socio-cultural downslide, nothing was done about it. Politics in Meghalaya continues to sustain itself by preying on the electorate. We recoil from the shameless audacity of it all, forgetting in the process that as a people; as the registered electorate of the state; it is we who are actually responsible for foisting this horror upon ourselves. We recognised the existence of a problem but refused to come up with remedies, resulting in everyone conniving to commit hara kiri – the practice of ritual suicide by self-disembowelment. In Meghalaya’s case – our reluctance to correct the flaws in our electoral system and process of electioneering, is now gnawing at the very innards of this Tribal State.

There is general agreement that political power as a means to usher in Good Governance is no longer applicable in Meghalaya. Everyone shares in that sinking feeling that politics has been sold to the highest bidder. It has slipped out of the common man’s control. Politics is no longer the domain of the amm admi. It has metamorphosed into an expensive business cartel in which only a privileged few can afford to indulge in. The democratic adage of ‘For, By and Of the people’ is gone, dead and buried long ago, replaced by a perverted political ethics that believes in ” For the Money, By the Money and of the Moneyed”. There is a rumour; we hope it is false but probably not, that during the recent tussle for CM ship, crores were spent by each contending camp to ensure loyalty of its followers. Money and nothing else decides who rules Meghalaya. Rumour again has it that the coal and cement lobby liberally financed the whole shameful fiasco. Politics in Meghalaya is up for sale and the realisation is growing that our politicians give two hoots for the welfare of the state and its people. Politics in our state is a platform to conduct business, ethical or otherwise, with no fear of interference or retribution. It is a system politicians have designed for themselves; a system that encourages defections and political instability; an ideal environment to circumvent the anti defection law; a perfect setting for unbridled horse trading. At the end of the day it is the common man who suffers. We all realise it. Again the question, what have we done about it? Sadly again, Nothing!

One has to accept the fact that in Meghalaya there is a vast disconnect between the common man and the electoral process. Most people have yet to associate our elected representatives with good or bad governance. For most, especially those in the rural areas, elections is a one day excitement in an otherwise drab and unexciting existence. The common perception is that election is a politician’s meal ticket, nothing more nothing less. It’s a business transaction imposed on an innocent community that has better things to do. Elections are someone else’s tamasha and if someone is fool enough to offer you cash in the bargain, then why not? It helps explain why people allow themselves to be bought over at election times by the highest bidder. Election results pave way to power, but power that has no bearing on any aspects of day to day governance, as the electorate itself does not expect it to be so. It suits the vested interest of a perverted political class, while the common voter simply doesn’t care. Therefore the saddest aspect of Meghalayan politics is the growing disconnect between the political system and the electorate and no one seems to care.

There are many who will challenge the above statement. Many who will feel hurt over such a declaration. How can we ignore the tension, the vehemence and passions raised during election campaigns? For God’s sake, there are officially declared ‘sensitive polling stations’, how can we forget! They would not exist if there were no strong and deep emotional bonds between the voter and the elections he is participating in. Probably true but the fact is, if at all there is any bonding between the two, it has nothing to do with the issue of Good or Bad Governance. Election fever has nothing to do with the ability of elections to deliver good and efficient law makers. Instead it has more to do with emotional party affiliations; with party or kinship relationship with the candidate; and within the existing political scenario, bonding perhaps has more to do with the money and goodies a candidate is able and willing to dispense with. Loyalties and passions arise for reasons other than the electorate’s desire for Good Governance or effective leadership. Money or the role of money power is emerging as the most powerful incentive for the common man to participate in elections. Is this healthy for or in any democracy? Or as Kong Patricia Mukhim puts it, where the principles of ‘Free and Fair Elections’ are either non existent or constantly being undermined. An apt description of Meghalaya and its political system!

Much as we would wish that the above conclusions are not true, the unfortunate fact is that they do exist in a fraternity that claims to be champions of democracy, both traditional and modern. As proof of this, one is always perplexed by the fact that despite the usual one day of emotional orgy during the day of polling and announcement of election results, the general public prefers to keep their elected representatives at arms length in their day to day existence. In any social emergency the public prefers to turn to local NGOs and pressure groups for help. It’s either that elected representatives have no time for their electorate or the latter is smart enough to realise that their representatives are useless, unwilling or unable to sort out public issues. Either way, it’s a miserable and depressing expression of faith on our political leaders. The surprising thing is that the elected representatives don’t seem to mind. In fact they seem to actually encourage such a view. It enforces the growing belief that political leadership and the power that automatically comes with it has little to do with public service. If so why then do we need to retain and continue with this farce? The time has come to think and act in the interest of the common man not for the personal benefit of a few however liberal they might be with their money. The time has come to call for electoral reforms that will reflect the true spirit of BY, FOR and OF the PEOPLE.

(The author is President ICARE an organisation that focuses on issues of Good Governance)

Ten mega blunders since 1947

By Indranil Banerjea

Men and events, wrote Karl Marx famously over 150- years ago, occur in history as if twice, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Some decisions that occurred post-1947 modern India, could be considered worthy fits in this category that the German philosopher and thinker espoused.

It may be tempting for modern-day analysts and historians to sit on judgment, from the benefit of hindsight, to say that the course of the decisions could not have been any other way, the nuances and the circumstances under which they were taken suggest that they could not be regarded as anything but decisions taken without adequate due diligence and sound advice, without taking into account its future or even immediate ramifications and ultimately too cavalier in approach.

While official historians are naturally wont to apply a different spin, the sordid saga of India going to the United Nations over Kashmir in 1947 remains a soft underbelly which continues to fester. Should India have waited for its troops to push back the tribal raiders into Pakistan territory instead of approaching the world’s largest mediating body? Ultimately when it came to the debate at the UN, the Pakistani representative was very well informed as compared to the Indian, who had simply not done his homework and was frequently caught napping.

Similarly, opinion on 1984’s Operation Bluestar remains divided on how it should have been handled but certainly conventional wisdom has it that Indira Gandhi allowed Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale far too much time in the Holy Temple and took it to a point where storming the sanctum sanctorum became a necessity – even in the public eye. In the process, a community was alienated.

The ill-fated attempts of the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) to restore order in the pearl island of Sri Lanka for close to 32 weeks between 1987 and 1990, fall into this very special category. The troops were sent in at the request of the local government and ordered out by the same government, minus a few thousand men and a reputation which has since then taken a lot to retrieve.

By far, the decision to release home minister Mufti Sayeed’s daughter Rubaiya after her kidnapping in 1989 marks the point where India started to lose its battle against terror. It was seen as a soft state unable to protect its citizens and a country which was willing to negotiate no matter how unreasonable the demand.

It found its apotheosis in the shameful Kandahar hijacking in 1999, a national humiliation heaped upon an inept government and a shrill media which, unwittingly, found itself backing demands of the hijackers. For most observers though for an airplane to take off from Amritsar with hijackers on board will be symbolic of the gross capitulation that an independent sovereign country with the world’s second largest standing army had been subjected to without a single shot being fired. Till date, leading members of the then NDA government continue to debate on their versions of how things panned out.

The decision on Shah Bano was a desperate game plan to catch minority votes; instead it turned into something else – a tacit backing for revivalist Muslim leaders whose reactionary mindset managed to alienate vast sections of poor and disadvantaged members of the community. In the end, it led to Congress losing its critical support in the ‘cow belt’, something it is now desperate to win back.

The natural corollary to Shah Bano was re-opening the locks at the disputed Ayodhya site by the Congress government in 1989 in a last ditch attempt to snatch back the so-called ‘Hindu’ vote. It remains a milestone for one single reason: it catapulted the BJP into national prominence, as a party devoted to the cause of ‘Hindus’. Whatever Congress had in mind when it decided to go in for removing the controversial locks in Ayodhya, it gave the saffronites the raison d’etre to go the whole hog in pursuit of an agenda which the ruling party wrongly calculated as theirs.

The infamous Emergency, too, falls into this historic clap trap. While the suppression of human rights and censorship were relatively new things for democratic India, Emergency has since then become the byword for political repression and dictatorship. More than three decades after it was lifted, Congress spokespersons continue to apologise for the excesses committed during that 21-month period.

Would Jyoti Basu have changed the course of Left politics in India at a time when he had the opportunity to become prime minister in the mid-1990s and was thwarted in his attempts by his party members? While it remains a matter of speculation for India’s ‘what-if’ specialists, the latest poll disaster in West Bengal suggests that it may not have been a bad idea to put Basu in the hot seat.

The Congress party abstained from offering any comments on the blunders, perhaps for good reason. INAV

 

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