Governance: When state is not a corporate entity


Patricia Mukhim

Meghalaya’s Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma is the proud owner of two prestigious degrees. The first is a BBA degree from the Wharton School of BusinessUniversity of Pennsylvania, USA; the second an MBA degree from Imperial College London. The second institution positions itself as a world-class university with a mission to benefit society through excellence in science, engineering, medicine and business. The Wharton alumni list includes notables like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Sundar Pichai, Ivanka Trump and Warren Buffet among others.  Imperial College London, has one notable alumni – late Rajiv Gandhi who pursued a course in mechanical engineering there in 1966 but did not complete it. In fact, Rajiv Gandhi never completed his engineering even at Trinity College where he studied from 1962-65.

No politician in contemporary India is trained to deal with disaster. So the judgment on how each politician dealt with Covid19 will be passed when the virus finally exits. Those graduating from B-Schools are taught to deal with business disasters and how to turn a company around but the rules that govern corporate business cannot be applied to governance of a country or a state. So while Elon Musk is working to revolutionize transportation both on Earth, through electric car maker Tesla – and in space, via rocket producer SpaceX and also founded the payment portal PayPal, Sundar Pichai (of Indian origin) is listed in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 and currently holds two jobs as CEO at Google and Alphabet. Who knows, perhaps a Conrad Sangma in business might have joined the ranks of Musk and Pichai having had the best training in elite universities of the US and UK. But politics is a fatal attraction and dynasty no less is a low hanging fruit.

Donald Trump the businessman became the first billionaire president of the United States in January 2017.  His businesses include the half-dozen buildings in and around midtown Manhattan in New York City. Trump also owns golf courses and a winery. However, his track record as a politician is extremely poor on several fronts, but more so in handling the coronavirus pandemic. Business training, therefore, does not provide skills to deal with real-politik. In running a business one can interview people and employ the best brains, not necessarily to create a homogenous environment of those who ‘agree’ with the boss on everything, but to build a team that is courageous enough to dismantle old ideas and create new ones through passionate dissent. Innovation cannot come from a staid group of “yes people.” Alas in politics, the attempt has always been to stifle dissent; to bring people to converge on one line of thinking and to believe that anyone who disagrees is the enemy. Without creating space for dissent no institution can survive.  Anyone who doubts this should read the book “Dismantle” by Shlomo Maital.

I recall a former chief minister in the early 90’s who ran his government for five years by ensuring that his entire team, but especially the major dissenters or likely rebels would meet at his residence every evening. There were several rooms then in Tara Ghar; a room for MLAs with a penchant for card games, another for those who enjoyed their drinks; some just listened to music or chatted away into the night. But it was like a regular attendance- taking. If someone was absent without reason, that person became a potential suspect for planning a game of musical chairs which was quite common in the unstable political climate of the time. That chief minister achieved nothing by way of development. Militancy took an upward swing and we lived lives of insecurity as hapless citizens. A stable government of five years is not a yardstick for achievement. It’s better to have a churn than a status quo that benefits vested interests.

Conrad Sangma runs a coalition of the willing. So far the only dissenters are the BJP but they have just two MLAs, one of whom is inclined to run with the hare of opportunism than with the Party President for obvious reasons. The mistake most politicians in leadership positions make is that they seek validation for their actions rather than the truth about them. The rule of the game in business is, “Avoid yes-persons; seek the truth; seek people who tell the truth and then listen to it even if it’s painful.” But insecurity pushes people to gather “yes persons” around them because they need constant validation. That’s a bad leadership model. A leader cannot be insecure and view every dissenter as the competitor. This holds true of politics too.

At the beginning of the elections, the NPP sold us a brand – the brand was about “change.” We all invested in that brand even though some of the old guard from the competing party who never saw the inside of a business school, leave alone the Ivory League varieties, but had perfected the art of manipulating the political system for their business interests, had by then joined the NPP juggernaut. Most citizens knew then that change cannot be wrought by the same people that created the grunge and skullduggery in the previous government and who had jumped fences for opportunistic reasons. We were doomed even before the start of the game in 2018.

The different regional parties that are part of this coalition are happy to plod along until 2023 knocks at their doors. They, in any case do not have the muscle to correct the anomalies of governance allowed by their senior ally the NPP (senior in terms of the larger number of MLAs they command). These allies have remained silent on the GHADC and JHADC scams. The only squeak that emerged was from the UDP but that was just to put the Congress on notice and not really to ask that the two ADCs be sent to the cleaners.

Dissent and noise were the order of the day in the 1990’s when Mr PA Sangma was chief minister and MLAs who had sworn allegiance to him until past midnight of a particular day, quietly pulled the rug from under his feet in the early hours of that same day. Mr Sangma and Meghalaya both got the shock of their lives. Here was a man who showed that he could change things and was actually ‘governing’ Meghalaya for the first time. He demonstrated that “good governance,” was not just a lazy phrase. He was a hands-on CM taking stock of different departments. He pushed them to prepare a white paper on their policy strategies.  Since its inception in 1972, Meghalaya functioned without any policy guidelines. That was then. I am not too sure that we have a white paper on critical areas of governance today such as Health, Education, Agriculture & Horticulture, Urban Affairs, especially waste management and the PWD. Do we have goaI-posts for the length of roads to be completed within each financial year? Doubtful.. I know there is a paper on the Post Covid Tourism but that’s about it.

The MDA ship is sailing without any sense of direction. A person heading the Meghalaya Public Service Commission – an important institution on whom the future of the youth hangs by a fragile thread, has been without a Chairperson since May this year. Is this not a priority for the government? Is there dearth of qualified, experienced people who can run the Commission with independence, efficiency and transparency? If the head of an important department of a corporate firm has superannuated, can his post be kept vacant for so long without consequences? The MPSC is, in fact, a Human Resources Management Institution and should be treated as such. Please don’t push in political acolytes who can be manipulated to appoint misfits and weed out the meritorious.

Mr Conrad Sangma the business manager needs to know that Meghalaya is not a corporate firm and MLAs in the Government are not directors in this firm. A legislator is a PUBLIC SERVANT, NOT A VIP or a BUSINESSMAN. Let’s get this message loud and clear!

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