Thursday, June 13, 2024

Will the Education scam affect Congress fortunes?


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By Patricia Mukhim


Last week, this day when I tried to play devil’s advocate and deconstruct the CBI report on the Education scam, after the entire citizenry went gung-ho over it, some good friends called up to ask if I have become the Congress party’s spin doctor. A young activist even asked me if Ampareen is my friend. The first question I asked myself is whether it is possible for a nasty columnist who has offended many more people than she can count, to ever have a friend in the first place. And to have a politician as a friend? That’s well nigh impossible. Not in the profession I am in. But, that does not mean we cannot be civil and polite in public. However, there is hypocrisy in our society that stinks. The same people who would expect you to castigate a politician and ostracise him/her are the very same ones that go to him/her for favours. I know quite a few but nothing surprises me any longer!

Now about the Education scam which many young people are very agitated about, I have a few things to say. If we go by the CBI reports, barring Shillong, the original score sheets of all the candidates in the different districts where the interviews were conducted have been tampered with. The originals are no longer there. Hence we do not even know exactly who got in and who was pushed out. We can only say that about Shillong where the score sheet has changed beyond recognition. In that case is it at all fair for those who have been pushed in, to continue to remain there and make a mockery of the entire selection process when they have tried to undermine it by pulling political strings?

The correct thing to do at this juncture is to declare the entire selection process null and void in the light of the CBI findings and to conduct a fresh examination. This might hurt those who got in through fair means because they might not get in the second time around. But such may be a very tiny majority since the bulk who got in are those recommended by MLAs/MDC/Speaker/Ministers and perhaps of many others who might have been smarter and not put their demands in writing. Hence a scam has been committed. After the CBI report, I wonder what more the High Level Scrutiny Committee constituted by the Government is likely to find. However, since the Court has directed that this be done so it shall be done. But will the Committee come up with its findings before the elections? Is it not in the interest of justice that the findings are made public within a month’s time? After all the CBI has already found everything there is to find. There’s not much the HLSC can do. It’s just a fig leaf offered to the Education Department by astute lawyers they have engaged. That’s why we all need good lawyers!

If the lawyer/s for the litigants had been equally shrewd they would have argued against setting up one more Committee to sit on the CBI report after the Bureau has done the entire dirty spade work. Lawyers for the aggrieved teachers-candidates would have recommended that the selection process be scrapped and a re-examination be conducted. We are often left to wonder why lawyers do not argue with passion on behalf of their clients. Why do they settle for less than what their clients deserve? Anyway legal jurisprudence is a labyrinth that ordinary people can never fathom. They only have to shell out money to pay the lawyers’ fees.

I am also left wondering why the civil society activists who helped the teacher applicants to file a suit did not ask for scrapping of the entire examination. What is justice according to them? On what will justice rely when the score sheets are no longer recognisable? If there is a way of salvaging the original score sheets then one can agree that a re-examination would entail much time, effort and money. But as can be judged from the present circumstances, there is no way that the aggrieved candidates will get justice for the score sheets can neither be reconstructed not retrieved from the waste paper basket.

Now about Ampareen Lyngdoh’s personal stance, I think the press conference was a shoddy job. Silence would have left people guessing but her attempt to find a ghost where none exists is politically naïve. Nothing irks people more than a politician’s vain attempt to defend the indefensible. A wrong has been committed and nothing that Ampareen or Dr Mukul Sangma or indeed the entire MUA Government can say will make the scam disappear. As I said earlier the HLSC is a fig leaf that reeks of a poor cover up attempt. Although I must say that the UDP has as usual decided to disown its partner in government even on this particular issue. What happened to collective responsibility and cabinets? And why was the CBI report that is lying with the Education department not discussed in the Cabinet when it is so damning? What do the Rules of Executive Business say about this? The Education scam indicts the MUA Government and that means ‘all’ who are part of the Government. It is not a Congress versus UDP football game! I wonder why politicians don’t get this!

Now coming to the point about whether or not the Education scam will affect the Congress party or the electoral fortunes of Ampareen Lyngdoh I am no political pundit and can therefore not predict the outcome. But I can only go by past experiences. Many of us have grand illusions about electoral politics. We would like to believe that the public will vote out the corrupt and vote in the candidate with a clean image. And we have lived with this illusion ever since we started voting. I am not trying to be disparaging about our own aspirations but simply stating a fact. If people had voted out the corrupt would we have had successive governments that stank of corruption? And don’t we all know of individuals who have minted crores of rupees continuing to win their seats? So who are we fooling? Is voter behaviour at all predictable?

With age one has also realised that it is futile to preach to the hungry and infirm and to tell them to vote the clean guys, if one cannot offer what the politician can. Let’s look at the reality today. Just go to any of the wannabe MLA’s home. Even before tickets by respective parties have been declared, the prospective candidates have spent money right, left and centre. They have begun to pay the hospital/medical fees of the kith and kin of their voters. Roads have been built; sports fields laid out etc. And there is no time like now for those who have lived in the shadow of poverty for the last four years. For them, this is a windfall. Until the political parties declare the names of candidates, the wily voters will make hay while the sun shines and get their pound of flesh from all the candidates. It’s the kind of justice that Shylock would be proud of propagating. After all politicians have not just carved out a pound of their flesh for five years but have sliced away their lives.

So will Ampareen win or lose? And what is the best course of action for her now? And will the Education scam taint the Congress party? Many speak of the Education scam being sub-judice and that it should therefore not be discussed. But aren’t many high profile cases like the Aarushi Talwar or the Jessica Lal murder cases where the matter was and is discussed publicly even before the Court could give its ruling? Many who wish to take a decision of whether or not to vote Ampareen based on the damning evidence in the CBI report would have done so by now. But do they constitute the bulk of the voters? Are they the type who would vote with their heads or their stomachs? Which category forms the bulk of the voters of the newly delimited Shillong (East) constituency. On them will depend Ampareen’s win or loss. And believe me when I say that as soon as the election heat and dust starts kicking in the Education scam will become only a Shillong (East) constituency issue. It will not matter to other candidates although they will raise the issue for want of any other.

At the end of the day money will win elections and this time many more money bags and families will enter the Assembly. No one will even raise a finger if husband defends wife, brother defends brother, father defends son and girlfriend defends boyfriend or vice versa. It’s going to be a holy mess! And if we don’t want to be part of this mess we had better migrate elsewhere or just lump it! Do I sound pessimistic? Maybe I do after seeing things from close quarters for far too long! Nothing changes in politics. Only faces change!


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