Saturday, June 15, 2024

Towards better political representation


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By Toki Blah

If one were to ask ‘What is it that makes Meghalaya tick? ‘, the answer might come in as a shock. Confusion, social tensions, frustration and perhaps a sense of all pervading hopelessness seems to cloak this ‘Patch of Beauty and grace’. Reading the morning papers is the surest way of verifying this winter of our discontent and of ruining ones mood for the entire day. Our dailies are simply filled with accounts of the ills, the troubles and the follies that continue to beset our entire society, be it in Khasi, Garo or Jaintia Hills. Everywhere it is the same. No exception. Murders, rapes, daily traffic jams, Headmen on the take, Godmen doing everything but God’s will, politicians turning businessmen and business men masquerading as law makers, the powerful trampling over the weak, the foolish and the greedy leaving no stone unturned to destroy what’s left of our environment. An endless litany of duplicity and fraud. It goes on and on. Has Meghalaya become the ‘The sick sister of the NE ?’ India Today’s latest State of the State Report fails to give any assurance. The issue of deficit governance a socio-political stigma that persists.

The ability of a government to deliver on the wellbeing of its citizens is called governance. In representative democracy, stability of elected governments is a prerequisite for delivering good governance. Meghalaya, for reasons best known to its politicians, has preferred to be otherwise. Within a span of three years (2008-2011) we had four governments. Political instability, resulting in governance deficit, has now become a brand name for the state. The question is why? Did the people ask for it? Not that I know of. Was it in the interest of the state and its people? A ridiculous question! Then why does it take place? The answer lies in shameful reality. It occurs because politics mutated from ‘a calling to serve the people’ into a business paradigm called ‘Horse Trading’.

Wikipedia has this to say about horse trading. “Due to the difficulties in evaluating the merits of a horse offered for sale, the selling of horses offered great opportunities for dishonesty, especially for excelling in shady business practices”. Money in Meghalaya plays a critical role in horse trading exercises, be it in the selection of candidates, their election, the formation of governments and even the eventual stability of such ‘horse traded’ governments. Men usually bereft of horse sense, but mostly rich, greedy, uncaring, opportunistic and exploitative, men without merit or value, shamelessly purchase their way to political power. There should not be any prejudice against rich men entering politics or contesting elections. They are as free as the next man to do so. What we dislike however is the brazen use of money to attain undue political advantage over others; using money power to be ‘first across the pole’; the corrupt, exploitative and arrogant mindset that believes that everything, especially the poor, can be purchased. That rankles. It stinks. It’s what we resent so much! It’s the area where crucial political reforms are urgently called for. Unfortunately it’s an issue that political parties in Meghalaya are unlikely to do anything about.

Is this why are we ever so bitter about our own elected representatives? Every election, more than 60 % of us, or so we’re told, come out to vote and elect those we expect to govern over us. The very next day the elected become the objects of scorn, ridicule and contempt. Something is basically wrong somewhere. It seems to suggest that the political system and its preference for a frame-work of governance based on money power is ever at odds with our tribal mindset and way of life. From all appearances it appears that the party system of governance that depends on a ruling side and an opposition; that decides by brute majority of numbers; a system that divides rather than consolidate; a political structure that is increasingly dependent on materialistic wealth and money, is at variance with traditional cultural value systems of our society.

Not that the traditional system is above criticism and reproach but it simply means that our tribal political traditions place high value and regard for decision making through debates, discussions and consultations, in short through consensus. Ka Tip Briew Ka Tip Blei, Ka kamai ia ka Hok, where truth and justice form the key ingredients of traditional governance, have disappeared; numbers have replaced truth; political expediency has substituted justice. It leaves those elected to high office shorn of all credibility. They neither inspire nor carry the trust of the people. It is what makes party politics so inappropriate in a tribal setting like ours. It perpetuates an unnecessary choice between the traditional and the modern. As an indigenous society we find ourselves increasingly at odds with practices of the political system we live in.

One such practice that perplexes is the perverted manner in which constituency nursing is carried out in Meghalaya. In the name of constituency nursing, political patronage has been resorted to cover up lapses in ability and performance. To placate a restive constituency the MLA fund was created to enhance political patronage over the masses. Scarce financial resources of the state were diverted to enable our law makers to nurse their constituencies with plastic chairs, tents, buckets and substandard constructions. In the name of development and local livelihood opportunities, the voice of liberal and independent thinking within a constituency was gagged and muted. To further improve the political representative’s image as a patron saint of the poor, a social category called the BPL was identified and registered.

A poverty based vote bank was thus established and the odds further stacked in favour of the inefficient and the incompetent. Any dud of a politician would forever get re-elected if he could manage these feudalistic and patronizing aspects of democracy so conveniently provided for by the system. Fresh political aspirants, on the other hand, are forced to overshadow this political largesse if they have any hopes to win. Money and money alone becomes the agent for change in our political system. It encourages corruption. ‘Cash for votes’ a social virus deliberately inflicted upon Meghalaya to silence forever the democratic spirit of its people. Merit, education, ability, integrity etc mere words that hardly carry any meaning in the electoral environment of Meghalaya. Do we, as a society, have any hopes left?

The 2013 Meghalaya Assembly Elections are round the corner. Everybody is looking forward to the event in the hope that it will usher in the much talked about change in our political milieu. A change from bad governance to good governance. A change from despondency to hope. But how will this happen? Can Meghalaya depend on its elected political leaders to bring about the change it wants? Can our politicians rise above temptation and shun corrupt electioneering practices? Can they abstain from using money to bring them to power? It’s like asking a cat to stay away from milk. If the truth be told the present political setup can only bring in a change of faces and nothing else! The solution to Meghalaya’s socio-economic and political problems and demands lie outside the purview of our political system and its managers. The solution shall have to come from people who want change; from those who demand for change; from civil society which has been spearheading the demand for change. It will certainly never come from a delinquent political setup and its vested interests.

The need of the hour is for Good Governance and quality political representation. Its something we just don’t have at present. The question is how will this come about? If civil society is to take up the challenge, whom does it turn to? Simple- it turns to the masses; the electorate; the people of Meghalaya. The answer to Meghalaya’s woes will come from political awareness. For this to happen there is need to mobilise public opinion on the urgent need for better political representation. There is need to awaken people to the danger that threaten their children and their future. There is need to awaken voters across the state. Someone needs to awaken people from their slumber before its too late. But who will wake them up?

(The author is President of ICARE, an organisation that focuses on issues of good governance and can be contacted at [email protected])



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