Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Who will cast the first stone

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By Paul Lyngdoh

This year marked the 7th death anniversary of late Ardhendu Chaudhuri. The function held at the Rilbong Sports and Cultural Club saw an animated discussion on the theme, “Corruption and public response,” which I, unfortunately, missed. There were divergent views expressed, but what stood out was the no-holds-barred candour with which speakers held forth on the underlying cause of the malaise. The irrepressible RG Lyngdoh hit the bull in its eye when he said that everyone of us- as individuals , as institutions and as a society- are equally blameworthy for having created conditions which not only allowed corruption to exist, but also to thrive. I could not have agreed more. The politician, no doubt, remains the favourite whipping-boy, and, to a large extent, justifiably so. But who is the MLA or MDC if not a mirror of the constituency and – ultimately- the society he represents? Surely, the MLA representing you is not a creature from outer space! The kind of pressure being exerted on elected representatives today for all forms of largesse- in kind, in cash- is simply mind-boggling. Not only are you expected to contribute to your constituents and the various groups- NGOs, religious entities, sports clubs- they belong to, but a figure is quoted, around which you are supposed to use your best negotiating skills to settle on a mutually agreeable amount!

Then there is the growing business lobby itching for an entry into electoral politics. I have no grouse against businessmen per se entering the fray if they have the requisite qualifications in terms of education, a credible record of public service and a well-defined vision for the state and its people. But in nine out of ten cases this has never been the case. On the contrary, the state and the reins of government are simply a tool, an instrument with which they seek to expand their business interests. When those interests come into conflict with those of society – the general, larger public interests- you can well imagine whose interests will be sacrificed!

Two eminent Church leaders- Rev. DS Sohkhlet and Bah GP Wahlang, the state’s first Chief Information Commissioner- made pointed reference to the issue in the recent past. Rev. Sohkhlet rues that the quality of legislators being thrown up in Meghalaya is fast deteriorating. One cannot but recall the names of stalwarts like Dr B Pakem and Ma H Hadem and compare them with those representing Jaintia Hills district today. What sets the duo apart from the current crop is an open secret. Bah G.P. cautioned voters on the heady display of money power once the election season sets in . He may not have realized this, but in certain constituencies this has already begun! The only silver lining one sees is that with more and more strident voices expressed in favour of quality leadership and against the mindless display of money power, Meghalaya might well see better days ahead, despite all prophecies of doom. The other choice is hardly a choice : a society at war with itself, a full-scale class conflict between the haves and the have-nots, the well-entrenched and the marginalized, the educated urbanites and the uneducated rural masses. Hardly an enviable prospect for a state that began its journey as “a patch of beauty and grace” and “a shining outpost” of the eastern frontiers!

THE APPLE OF ONE’S EYE

Last week, the world mourned the passing away of the legendary Steven Paul Jobs, business magnate and CEO of Apple Inc. whose rise to the top is a riveting saga of the triumph of the human spirit. Some wit posted a comment on the internet about “the apples ” that have changed the course of human history, beginning with Adam’s fall from grace because of Eve’s offer of the apple, to the apple that propelled Newton’s discovery of the law of gravity to Steven Paul Jobs’s launch of the highly successful range of Personal Computers, the Apple II series. What the comment missed is the Apple label of records that the Beatles launched in a musical career that was to change the definition of pop culture forever. I find the Steve Jobs- Beatles connection interesting. The Beatles launched Apple records in 1967; Steve Jobs founded his Apple Computer in 1976. A music buff to the core, Steve was also a big fan of Bob Dylan. He was mesmerized by the Fab Four and even cited them as a model for his business when he told a TV Channel : “My model for business is The Beatles: they were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things … are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people”.

I am sure one or more of the apples above have had an influence on your life one way or the other: your religious belief, your scientific temper, the music you love, the technology you use. Each has had a tremendous impact on mine. But if I were to vote for the one that has had the maximum imprint, it would definitely be The Apple that gave birth to the music of the four lads from Liverpool that defined my childhood days and remains the source of pure joy and “limitless, undying love” for the finer things that life has to offer!

SOHRA , 2011

WE read William Wordsworth’s mournful London, 1802 way back in Class XI and hence the above caption for my ancestral village, Sohra, which hit the headlines last week for very wrong reasons. How could people from the cradle of Khasi civilization,” Ka Ri ka jingshynrang, ka Ri ka akor” (land of valour and civility) as described by our Bard, U Soso Tham, behave like demented savages and caused the needless loss of three innocent lives in the name of Nongshohnoh? I am at a loss for words. No amount of regrets and public apologies can wash away this blot on the reputation of the idyllic village. And blaming the womenfolk of Sohra for inciting the madness (which the local Rangbah Shnong did) is hardly an explanation. It only projects the women of Sohra as evil-minded instigators of crime and the men as brainless, blood-thirsty cut-throats. I have a simple appeal to make: let the whole of Sohra observe a day of mourning and fasting in memory of the departed and, in the process, make peace with those they have harmed, one way or the other, which would include those who have toiled hard to give it the fame and recognition that it stands in danger of losing today.

PARTING SHOT

Our ambivalence on the issue of corruption is stupendous. I recently caught up with a church elder who has always been vocal in condemning venality in all forms. After an exchange of pleasantries, he pulled me to a corner and said: ” I have opened a grocery store. Why don’t you help me with Forty thousand rupees as a token of support? And please don’t tell me to approach any bank, thank you.”

Then there is the case of a semi-urban constituency which had a semi-literate simpleton for its MLA. He made it to the Council of ministers as well. Eventually, he lost the elections and was often seen boarding a bus in his locality. “Look at the fool! A former minister and he still rides a bus with commoners,” was the general refrain in his constituency. Replacing him was a relatively young chap with a penchant for cars and houses. “Look at the thief! When will he ever be content?”, was the general refrain in the constituency. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t is a befitting adage here.

(Poet, short story writer and song writer, Paul Lyngdoh is also the MLA of Jaiaw and former minister, Meghalaya. He can be reached at paullyng @gmail.com)

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