Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Everybody’s some body’s fool

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By Toki Blah

 

I wonder if there are people out there who still remember Connie Francis. She was an American crooner of the late fifties and sixties and some of her hit songs, played frequently on the Binaca Hit Parade (remember how we glued our ears to a squawking wireless reception from Radio Ceylon) were, ‘Who’s sorry now’ and ‘Everybody’s some body’s fool’. When young teenage relationships fell apart then, as they still frequently do, these were the songs that usually consoled a broken heart.

Sixty years down the line the title of the songs and the wordings still haunt. They tug at the heart strings not so much because of broken hearts but more because of unfulfilled promises, continuous breach of trust and shameless brazen faced political perfidy. Come election time and the songs remind us just what it is to be a jilted voter in the Abode of the Clouds. Connie sings “Everybody is somebody’s plaything” and the mental image of a gullible, cuckolded electorate, played like a puppet, to be ultimately discarded like unwanted garbage is simply too embarrassing to talk about.

“Wow, lah shah shet phi” is a Khasi expression denoting extreme disgust at any act of betrayal (The Achiks must be having their own expression of similar contempt). Khasis usually speak of betrayal by a lover; by friends; by kith and kin, by dreams on interpreting a fake archery ticket number, and more frequently now of unfulfilled election promises. As a society we epitomise expertise at sniffing out deeds of betrayal ( actually some individuals and NGOs survive on this trait alone). Surprisingly however, when it comes to collectively exposing and condemning acts of political deceit, there appears to be societal conspiracy to keep mum and look the other way. We have as a people throughout been politically cheated, deceived, conned, bamboozled, bilked, swindled and what have you. And by none other than our own flesh and blood! Of these we prefer to remain silent and mute. Not surprisingly when elections come the best we could ever do is a weak, lame and pathetic “Come, let’s not waste our votes”.

Why do the people of Meghalaya cast their votes? Why do we have these high sounding yet superfluously worded statements of 60%; 65% or 70% voter turnout? What good has voter turnout done except prove the point that in politics it’s possible to con all the people all the time. Political parties have however totally become irrelevant. Votes are cast not for any political ideology – who has them anyway? Manifestos and their broken promises are for the birds, yet we continue to vote because the voter now wants instant action and he has been encouraged to believe that money speaks better than words. ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ is the latest win ability election factor. A reality that the Congress has promised it will exploit to the hilt. Therefore, everything remaining constant, money still remains the principal motivator for people to vote in the next elections.

That votes can be bought and elections won has not been lost on the business community. There are however two types of businesses in Meghalaya. One that survives on universal business ethics, the other that survives by cheating the Government. Duplicate and triplicate TPs & challans for coal; dubious transport subsidy claims; questionable weighbridge operations; shoddy workmanship and substandard supplies to Government can produce overnight millionaires. Such people quickly realise that attaining political power bestows monopoly over business; it can further facilitate fraud against the establishment while simultaneously offering protection from the law! ‘Money, money, money; It must be funny; It’s a rich man’s world’- so sings ABBA! When even party tickets are now dished solely on the ‘vote purchasability factor’, the joke is on the common man while the hoax is on Good Governance. The rich walk home laughing all the way.

Let’s accept the political reality that stares us in the face. The politics of providing good governance is now dead and gone. Without bias to anyone, the present Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Dr Mukul Sangma, is at least trying to revive that old school of ‘Politics for serving the people’. Indications are that the Congress is likely to be returned as the single largest party in 2013. It is most likely to again head the next government. Question is, will those who believe in the politics of patronage allow Dr Mukul to continue with his Politics for the People? Indications are that many in the next Assembly will be there to feather their own nests. The purchase of votes is the investment they have made. The next five years will be on how to ensure 10 fold returns by robbing the public exchequer. Who has time for the state and common man? ‘Everybody is some body’s fool’ is no longer just a song- it’s a tragic political reality!

It’s been forty years since we attained statehood and accorded the privilege of electing our own leaders. With hindsight one can safely say it hasn’t done us much good. Forty years of socio-political regression is not a good record to write home about. It would appear that we have lost the art and ability to elect, choose and cultivate good public leaders. Leaders with a vision for the state and its people are shunned and getting scarcer by the hour. Leaders waiting in the wings are many but bankrupt of any ideas for the future. Some even are convinced that we have no future as the future is always painted as gloomy and frightening, the past glorified for what used to be. People are encouraged to seek solace and comfort only in the legends and myths of the past. An almost hysterical demand exists to drag the state back to pre historic times. Is this good? Is Fear the only factor that can unite and bring our people together? What about Hope and self confidence? How many of our leaders espouse them? More importantly, how many of us endorse this Fear Syndrome by remaining silent?

We now have to admit that the political system we have adopted for ourselves has let us down. The ‘first- past- the- post’ criteria for winning an election, when fuelled by money, has made the party system redundant and dangerous. A candidate wins because of his spending capability. No education needed; no experience; no social commitment; no promises; just money; and he knows it. The party is there for the majority it provides as a constitutionally recognised platform to form a Government. That’s all. In a situation where everyone believes he or she is Chief Minister material because of their buying power, chaos and confusion prevail. Political instability has been blamed for most of Meghalaya’s ailments but frankly speaking it is blind unthinking dependency on the win ability factor that is the prime cause. Speaking of win ability and instability in the same breath are glaring examples of political hypocrisy at its worst. It has destroyed the credibility of the Political Party as a bridge between people and their politicians. Can we blame the public for turning to NGOs whenever they seek relief from Government non performance and poor governance?

So is 2013-18 once again set to witness the type of self induced instability that has been Meghalaya’s political profile for the past decades? In a democracy Of, By and For the people, will elected representatives listen to the voice of the people? The people of Meghalaya are saying that they are fed up with money politics. Now why can’t the president of the Congress, the NPP, the UDP, the HSPDP and the NCP give clarion calls for a total ban on the use of money in the 2013 elections? Why can’t we forget win ability for the moment and concentrate instead in providing the state with good leaders for good governance? The candidate who wins through purchase of votes is not the type of leader the people want. Whoever advocated ‘winability over ability’ deserves a kick on the back side. If everyone agrees on this then why continue to perpetuate this crime on an innocent public? Why can’t parties tell candidates not to use money power to purchase votes? Give a press statement to that effect. Do any of the parties have the guts ( kha shnyrang ka kmie) to do so? This is a challenge from the people of Meghalaya. Come on, give the people a chance. For God’s sake, for once, give them what they want and it’s not money, let me tell you. They thirst instead for good governance and good leadership. That’s what Meghalaya wants!

Author is President of ICARE; he can be contacted on [email protected]

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