Monday, June 24, 2024

Milking the milkman


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By Naba Bhattacharjee

As elections to Meghalaya Assembly approaches, one can witness the hectic wooing of voters by prospective aspirants. The next election – the first after delimitation of constituencies and its intricacies has been covered by the writer in this column- “ 2013 since 2008” (ST 25th Oct 2011). A sizeable section of the political firmament in India has the capability to adjust to any situation with consummate ease. One primary reason is perfecting the art of exploiting the resource base of development for individual gains. Their innovative mode of extraction immediately brings to mind the image of a milkman going through the smooth motion of his daily chore – milking a cow.

The status and standing of a milkman in the political hierarchy is directly proportional to the individual’s experience and skill in milking. It is virtually a contest to determine how much cream a politician is able to skim off and stack away. Some leaders, like the earlier “strongman” of Bihar actually symbolized this aspect, surrounded by cows and fodder and at times unabashedly, practicing both the act with impunity. The politicos’ without ministerial berths or official position have to be content with playing a peripheral role, with occasional scope for milking a “desi” cow with meager output. The “jersey” cows are reserved for heavyweights with official powers- self destined to enjoy the milk and cream of office. And like cream, whose shelf life can be enhanced by storing in deep freezers, the products of political milking finds its way to Swiss freezing lockers to maintain crispness.

The Chanakya of modern Indian politics, PV Narasimha Rao, realizing the consternation of his fellow political brethren, managed to draw them into the fold of the milkman with skillful straightforwardness. Each member was provided with a “hybrid” in the form of Local Area Development Fund, which in course of time transcended to the State level constituency. Introduction of this particular process ensured the security of big “farms” and insulation against efforts aimed at destabilizing or poaching on such “farms”.

The saga of milking has come full cycle, following an evolutionary course in consonance with a natural corollary of reaction to all such action. The general public has become conscious of how the mechanism of milking functions and sustains. A reverse trickle, if not a flow has been set in motion. The rural populace is compelled to perfect the art of extracting their pint of milk from the milkman’s dairy, in the absence of any viable source of income and lack of basic facilities. The entire milking phenomenon is becoming broad based, resulting in a methodical approach- milking of the milkman. The phenomenon is both urban and rural oriented, although strategy and quantum varies.

A donation by a public representative activates in milking resources of a particular department many times over. A request for “managing” the sum, gathers milk and cream, down the line. The public representatives hold their constituents responsible for emergence of milking, while the people feel that milking is an established process which will continue irrespective of whether they milk the milkman or not. So why not erode whatever possible from the dairy filled with milk actually meant for common good.

In rural locales the mechanism is more direct and without urban inhibitions and discretion. A crowd is a common sight outside the constituency residence or office of elected representatives. The demand includes money for healthcare, articles of personal hygiene, education, marriage, birth, death, house building, seed money for starting a business, football match, festivals et al besides requisition for various materials. Politicians representing rural areas are increasingly becoming wary of visiting their constituency for fear of being milked. But with elections round the corner, there is no other alternative but to open the sealed cans or history to the cows. A developing trait is the entry of business tycoons with abundance of milk, into the political arena. And why not? If power can accumulate money and that is acceptable then there cannot be any heart burn in money aspiring for power. Any other category without milk cans is slowly being rendered into “dairy farm workers”.

After downsizing of ministry, the ordinary legislators are at their wits end. There is no other alternative for them but to either convert the stored cream into milk or milking the local area development (?) fund to provide the much needed nutrition to the electorate(s). The public are extracting their pint of milk if not the pound of flesh. The worst victims are the non – commercial first timers and politicians who on principle have or did not adopt the concept of milking. This maybe the reason why it is increasingly becoming difficult to find another BB Lyngdoh, TH Rangad or Ardhendu Chaudhuri, to name a few. A select few are either seriously contemplating to change professions or have done so like RG Lyngdoh. Another class believes in milking for first three to four years and thus become fit for being milked during the run up to next election.

The fruit of development in the rural areas, encompassing even the basic and primary sectors is a distant dream. The phenomenon of multi disciplinary milking can be stopped or at least restricted by optimal utilization of funds allocated to respective sectors. The objective must be to envisage a holistic rural development road map and ensure actual execution on the ground. Till basic amenities are provided for and avenues for rural economic emancipation is established the chain of milking process will continue unabated and will become institutionalized with the passage of time.

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