Sunday, June 23, 2024

MUA – Oscillating between arrogance and spinelessness


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By Patricia Mukhim

There are several books which tell us of the perils of insecurity. An insecure individual is bossy and bullies people to hide his/her deep-seated fears. Insecure people are known to take impulsive decisions that cost them heavily in the long term. Governments are constituted by individuals and are therefore not very different in their behaviour. These days the MUA Government is swinging on a dangerous pendulum. On the one hand it passes laws that are outrageously offensive, such as the Mining and Minerals Act which will empower mine owners to continue destroying the environment through rat-hole mining even though the method is archaic, destructive and unscientific. On the other hand it cobbles together a groups of NGOs to go into the intricate issue of influx control which requires intensive and extensive academic research, a comparative understanding of how other states deal with the issue and learning from their follies or wisdom depending on whether they have failed or succeeded in that venture.

For the NGOs a one stop solution for addressing a highly complex problem involving movement of people from other states of India and from a neighbouring country is the Inner Line Permit, which to me, is a highly regressive instrument. That we have no better solution shows how intellectually deficient we are. Relying on borrowed ideas that have failed in other states tells us how status- quoist we are. Once we have caught on to a brainwave and built a forced consensus around it, then any other idea is simply shot down. Dissenting voices have no place in Meghalaya’s binary politics. Usually dissenters are labelled as conspirators (dohlab/shetkylla jaitbynriew). The label acquires a political character. And young people who follow the debate feel that if the majority think in a certain way then the majority must be right. The majority of Germans either believed in Nazism or silently supported Hitler. They were silent about Auschwitz and other acts of horror of the Nazi regime. Did that make Nazism the right ideology?

So Vox populi, Vox Dei is not necessarily an accepted principle in a democracy. Rabble thinking cannot always be right thinking. More change has been wrought in this world by wisdom emanating from one clear-thinking mind which could convince others, not by coercion, but by reason and logic. In fact many crimes have been committed by self-righteous packs that turned a wrong into a right through sheer power of rhetoric and muscle. This is a dangerous way of proceeding while adopting long term policies that could have adverse impact on the state. The argument one is making is not about whether getting an ILP is vexatious for a tourist or a casual visitor. The point is that countries are now talking about open borders while we here would want to seal off our borders with neighbouring Assam who we expect to give us free and unrestricted entry into its airport and railway station. Where is the spirit of reciprocity among neighbours? Is Meghalaya an island? Just because Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh want to live in isolation should Meghalaya follow suit? Hence a non-Meghalayan, non tribal who enters Meghalaya from Assam has to have an ILP!

Truth be told, the ILP is an instrument that is not constitutionally tenable. I sometimes wonder why these anachronistic ideas pushed in by an imperialist regime are hugged and loved by the tribals. Is this an extreme form of masochism (the enjoyment of being in an unpleasant situation)? Or is it a pathologically induced social disorder? We need a political psychologist like Prof Ashis Nandy to diagnose this infirmity. I know that this argument of mine will be construed as betrayal by the elite tribal of a genuine tribal cause. But I am ready to be pilloried for this idea, because, the crowd is not always right. And those of us who are lured into believing that civil society is always good and always right must read what Prof Ashis Nandy says about bad civil society in, “A consensual oligarchy of academics ” by Kum Kum Dasgupta (The Hindustan Times Dec 20, 2012). Prof Nandy was referring to those who vandalised the almost-century old Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune on the issue of cartoons which they felt hurt the sentiments of a certain group. Hence civil society is not always right and not always good either. They need to be critiqued as much as they themselves put the state through the wringer.

There are several reasons why the ILP is regressive. Primarily it will dissuade development institutions and commercial enterprises from coming in and setting up base here. Who wants to be hemmed in by anachronistic laws when there are better places to do business? And before the Left leaning intellectuals/NGOs start demonising all profit making ventures, lets not forget the thousands of jobs the Tatas, Ambanis, the Maruti-Suzuki, Hindustan Levers etc have created. The state is not and can never be the sole job creator! By putting spokes in the wheels of private enterprise are not the so-called civil societies creating situations for mass unemployment here? There are many who want to work and earn a decent living because they don’t have the clout it takes to lead an NGO. If you are an NGO leader in Meghalaya patronage comes easy. You have the clout to certify what is and what is not heritage land; what is and what is not forest land; who can do rat hole mining; who has the right to own land and who hasn’t. It’s a very powerful position indeed!

But I am digressing. There are other reasons which make the ILP unviable for Meghalaya. Everyday there are hundreds of travellers from Guwahati and beyond who need to transit through Meghalaya to reach the Barak Valley (Silchar, Mizoram, Tripura) and beyond. Are these travellers expected to take an ILP when they travel to and fro? If they don’t have an ILP, how do we know they will not alight at Nongthymmai or Laitkor and disappear like thousands of other residents of Meghalaya into the shadows? The fact of the matter is that people come to Meghalaya because there are opportunities that beckon. After the recent botch-up by the KSU where some alleged infiltrator was killed, there are several building contractors who cannot complete their projects on time for want of labourers. Most building projects in Shillong are hanging fire today. Those who doubt me can undertake a quick survey.

The point here is that labour like goods operate on the principle of supply and demand. If we are self sufficient in our needs we will not look beyond our State for help. But is that a reality? Or anybody’s reality for that matter? Is the most powerful nation of the world not dependent on manufacturing services provided by China? Aren’t the economies of states and countries interdependent? Or are we living in some strange cuckoo land?

The problem with this and past Governments is that they have not built think tanks that can foresee problems and craft out policies before being asked to do so at gun point. The ILP is an instrument demanded on the premise of blackmail (if you don’t solve the influx problem we will bring the government to a halt by calling a bandh and several bandhs if needed; that’s the tactic of choice anyway). A weak government is afraid of such threats and quickly puts together a High Level Committee and they comprise civil societies from Shillong. Then in the middle of the consultations a few more activists (whose claim to fame is that they know everything about everything and must be invited to every meeting under the sun, barring cabinet meetings), barge in and are nicely accommodated. The issue of controlling influx became a cul-de-sac for a one point agenda – the implementation of the Inner Line Permit (ILP) which had more takers than the wretched three or four tier identification of citizens and non-citizens proposed by a lone ranger also belonging to a civil society that does not call bandhs and therefore does not have what is called the moral economy and political capital pf the others.

For decades the public sphere has been jammed by a traffic that does not believe in rational and informed debate but by their sheer ability to hold governments to ransom. These are not assets or characteristics of civil society. Javeed Alam in his book, ‘Who Wants Democracy’ says in the chapter on ‘Civil Society and Democracy,’ that civil society does not often practice the democratic values and principles that democracy bestows on them. He further states that the core of civil society in India has turned against democracy or at least away from the way democracy works in relation to the processes that sustain it. This is manifested in features that are visible and pronounced such as expressing scant regard for civility or politeness towards those not part of one’s group and lack of decorum in public utterances.


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