Welcome to kingdom of Meghalaya

Patricia Mukhim

Democracy in Meghalaya has experienced a nosedive. Come 2023 and Meghalaya will be ruled by four families.  Some members of those families are already part of the present MDA government. How can you claim to be a democracy when two of a family who are either brothers or uncle and nephew are both ministers? How can power be concentrated in one or two or three families? But that is exactly what will happen in 2023. It is for this reason that calculations are already on and speculations are rife about where each candidate from within the family circle and from the extended family will be contesting.

It is an open secret that at least one family is today cornering all the big contracts in the state. The family owns a construction company. There is more money to be made from government contracts than from anywhere else. Why so? Look at the quality of the roads in Meghalaya today. Even within city limits the roads are such that if a woman in labour is to be taken to hospital she will deliver on the way due to the heavy jerking of the vehicle. Let’s not talk about roads beyond Shillong. The road condition in all districts is equally bad but some more than others have remained decrepit for years. No one ever asks questions as to why roads need to be repaired every year. Why should roads not have a definite shelf life? And has any contractor in this state ever been blacklisted for constructing bad roads? No. Because neither the Dorbar Shnong nor the public consider it their bounden duty to challenge corruption! MLAs are in cahoots with the contractors so who do we blame? And we have allowed this sin to persist by looking the other way.

The other day a senior bureaucrat of the Government had to visit a family in Umpling. The guy had to do a detour from Lapalang to enter Umpling because the bridge connecting Rynjah to Umpling has been closed for bridge expansion for almost a year now. Secondly, the officer found the road condition so abysmal, resulting in slowing down his driving speed to 10 KMPH because you cannot drive at 40KMPH in such a horrible thing called a ‘missing road,’ eaten up by the those who must have used less than 50% of the money allocated for the road when it was constructed or repaired. The officer asked his colleagues in Umpling why they don’t raise a stink about such appalling road condition. They just smirked at him. End of story! But come election time and the same MLA whose face is never seen during the whole of this Covid tragedy, will return to power because money will play its dirty game. This is the sordid story of elections in Meghalaya.

The story today is that in 2023, there will be four families, two from Khasi-Jaintia Hills and one from Garo Hills that will rule over Meghalaya. They will invest enough money to win at least about 35 seats and they will breeze in comfortably. If the likes of Dr Mukul Sangma and family continue to hang on like limpets to the Congress they might win the elections but they will continue to be in the dog house for the next five years. Smart thinking demands that they shift gears now in order to be somewhere in the reckoning in 2023, although they might not be game changers.

Let’s face facts. The 2024 election will still belong to the BJP. Come 2023 December the Ayodhya temple will be inaugurated and Amit Shah, though not the party president currently will come up with last minute strategies, just like doves emerging out a magician’s hat. Only losers will bet on a losing horse so all the Congress men and women are now contriving to chart out a new course and to draft a blueprint for action. No wonder those in the Congress who used to be most critical of the MDA Government have suddenly muted themselves like everyone now does when in a zoom meeting. The silence is a tacit approval of the government’s actions.

Meanwhile the national president of the NPP has given a clarion call in support of Gorkhaland. What does this imply? This is a forewarning that the NPP will set up candidates in the 2021 West Bengal elections; at least in the hotly contested 5 seats in what is commonly referred to as “Gorkhaland.” The BJP has already started fishing in troubled waters there when the Union Home Ministry recently convened a meeting where it invited the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha. The meeting was chaired by the MoS (Home) G Kishan Reddy. The BJP leaves nothing to chance. If the NPP sets up candidates in the five LA constituencies of Bengal, it is going to be a fight not between titans but between the giant and the dwarf in terms of resources and mobilizing capacity. The NPP may have managed to get the moniker of a ‘national party’ but think of the reach of the BJP and that of the NPP! Comparisons are anyways odious. However, if the NPP has been inveigled by some GJM enthusiasts then the party would want to take up the gauntlet. But where will the resources come from? Elections are not fought on goodwill. And then there’s the Assam election as well!

A national party would want to set up candidates nationally (I wonder why the NPP did not try Bihar). But elections equal hard cash. So what’s the NPP’s revenue model?  Naturally it will have to come from the private limited company called Meghalaya. After all it is in Meghalaya that the NPP was incorporated. Those ruling Meghalaya have always treated it like a family estate and politics as an entitlement, so there’s nothing strange.

One poser for the NPP leadership is this: Is it worth being a national party? Isn’t the NPP playing second fiddle to the BJP in Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland? How does it raise the stature of its leaders? In fact, the need to inject capital into the NPP might end up in emptying the coffers of the holding Company – Meghalaya incorporated.

To keep the holding company afloat so many strategies have to be adopted. Bureaucrats have to act like directors and do their best to ensure that the Company stays afloat. Some who don’t toe the line have to be removed from their posts and given some other duty that will not impede the progress of the Company. That is why we see several mid-level bureaucrats placed in important positions so that they can be “rail-roaded,” into doing things they would not normally do. The senior bureaucracy have some spine to resist political pressure; but junior and mid-career bureaucrats have to perform or be shunted from department to department. It’s a tough call for those not used to the game but others have learnt that it’s better to be pliable and dance to different tunes than to be upright and have their backs broken.

Meanwhile, 2023 will also see Nongkrem and Mawhati as tough battle grounds. The grapevine also says some MLAs will be shifting to Mawkynrew from their present constituency since moneybags with big stakes will be entering their present constituency. The gossip is also that Adelbert Nongrum will be facing quite a few Goliaths including one who will be shifting constituency and others who will give him a run for his money. So from now until the time of reckoning the KHNAM MLA will have to do a lot of hollering about this, that and the other. The problem is he is part of the Government but out of the charmed circles of decision making, so the poor man has to take his grievances to the public domain.

If the people of Meghalaya really want to reclaim democracy they have to start another freedom movement. But why should we? Aren’t we all comfortable and complicit?

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