Politics of patronage and privilege

Patricia Mukhim

Someone had rightly said that politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding and threatening elements in their constituencies. Voters who went to the polling booth hoping to vote for change and did not get a single penny to press the EVM are foolish idealists because we can hardly make a difference. The ideals we vote for are our imaginative understanding of that which is desirable but which is increasingly becoming impossible. The voter is a now a blackmailer and each one who has any clout and says he/she can bring voters to the booth to vote for a candidate is assured of a regular government contract. That’s how it has worked in Meghalaya for several decades.

There was a generation that would faithfully quote “Honesty is the Best Policy.” Today this is passé. Honesty does not pay and you would be a lunatic to look for an ‘honest’ politician. Once elected politicians will bend the rules and then proceed to ‘rule,’ not to govern. The constituent has been bought and should stay bought. I wish politicians could record who they paid money to so they can turn around and blackmail all trouble-mongers who usually pretend they are ‘holier than thou’ when they take to the streets to raise this or that issue, just so they come to the limelight. Come election time and these same youth are in the fray. Street fights are only to deceive the public that they care and are fighting for their rights. No one cares for the public and if we believe that politicians care for anyone but themselves we must get our heads examined.

The youth of Meghalaya have seen from close quarters that politics is the quickest way to catapult then to name, fame and a cushy lifestyle they would have never afforded considering the circumstances they come from. I am talking here not of the PA Sangma brood that were born with a golden spoon and whose paths were already laid out by a doting father. I am speaking here of the thousands of young people who haven’t made much of their lives and who see politics as the only vehicle to instant wealth and fame. Who would not want to be in politics when the stakes are so attractive? And in politics the ends justify the means. And then having been elected who would want to be in the doghouse after five years? To get re-elected means the MLA/minister must show some work but the bulk of his wealth (money from the public exchequer) is set aside to buy votes before the next polls are held. The MLA scheme money comes in handy here!

The fact that Meghalaya just saw 877 infant deaths and 61 pregnant mothers dying between April and July this year did not even cause a flutter here. I wonder if anyone will take up this matter in the State Assembly and if the Assembly Committee on Women’s Empowerment has conducted a field research on this matter, using the state’s resources. In states like Sikkim, the MP uses his funds party to employ young research associates to pan out to different parts of the state and get data out. This is also to unearth what the real problems and needs of the villages beyond the state capital. Even MLAs in that state use their MLA funds partly to study the problems of the state in-depth so that governance interventions are more precise and address the core issues with visible outcomes after five years. I guess the MLAs/MPs in Meghalaya will not spare money for such people-oriented interventions.

The fact about Meghalaya is that we have produced very few MLAs who qualify to be leaders. The first test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men and women the conviction and the will to carry on in his footsteps. Is there any such leader here in Meghalaya? At least I haven’t found any enduring legacy left behind by anyone, including those that ostensibly fought for statehood without giving a thought to demarcating the borders with Assam. So much so today we carry the scars of that imbecilic acceptance of a state without borders. This continues to be the proverbial thorn in the flesh for Meghalaya, with Assam caring two hoots about our muted protests. Mizoram and Nagaland are capable of inflicting deep wounds on Assam but not Meghalaya. And Assam knows we are on a sticky wicket because we don’t even have a map of our erstwhile Khasi states. And we will never know our territory because we have not allowed a cadastral survey to be carried out. Simple! And even today no one wants a cadastral survey lest it be known how much land is owned by which politician, businessman and bureaucrat. These three categories are the only real players in the Casino called Meghalaya!

There was a time when honour and dignity meant something. Politicians have always needed money to fight elections. So come election time and businessmen/contractors would visit them and give their little packets of notes with the hope of getting back double the bonanza if the man (sorry about the gender bias here but women don’t figure much in the politics of Meghalaya) is elected. Then, there was some dividing line between big business and politics. Now everyone in big business, including those owning construction companies have become politicians because politics is the biggest business today. The only non-businessman politician I know is Mr Lahkmen Rymbui. Every other politician has deep pockets.

For a long time many of us lived with the illusion that we have been appointed policemen of the human race. Alas! We are all captives of the pictures in our heads. Our mistaken belief is that the world we experience is the world that really exists. But over the years there are several parallel universes in Meghalaya. There is a universe where the rich and famous move around in. There is the universe where the poor live desperate lives unable to access basic health care and during the pandemic not able to buy food and other basic needs. There are other universes where the vested interests straddle, creating their own reasons for existence in that universe.

Meghalaya’s pain is that its philosophers and thinkers too have all joined politics.  Wisdom dictates that when philosophers become politicians they cease to be philosophers. Politics is like a one way ticket to the top for everybody who is somebody. Naturally the state is devoid of voices that promote reason and logic. Our universities have only bred an opportunistic breed of “academicians” who don’t want to offend anyone. Hence issues that require a head-on analysis; issues that afflict the state and its polity are all drowned in the cacophony of the ivory towers of universities. There is a clever attempt to skirt controversy as if the aim of academics is not to interrogate but to accept the status quo. When people make noises about NEHU they are only doing it for their vested interests; not for the public good. And I say this with all responsibility, so please chew on this truth dear revered professors, especially the locally bred ones who actually have a duty and responsibility to advocate better public policies.

Let me end with verses from WH Auden’s poem, September 1st 1939; “All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie.”

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