Erosion of public trust

Public trust is the essence of democracy. The public elect a set of leaders and place their trust on those leaders to deliver what has been promised in the election manifesto. The word public trust dates back to the origins of democracy where it is believed that within the public lies the true power of society. Hence it is incumbent upon those elected to govern not to break this public trust.  One reason why bribery was regarded as a notorious evil is that it contributes to the culture of political corruption. Other areas where the public trust is betrayed is when there is lobbying by special interest groups or when there exists a cartel that drives government decision making. All these signs are visible in Meghalaya today.

That the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly had a first-hand account of how the coal auction business is used to cover up the illegal coal mining and transportation cartel and that the District Administration is part of the misconduct, suggests that the venality dominates the entire governance system. The administrators have been bullied into carrying out political orders or face the consequences. What is of concern is the silence of the public or the civil society. No one is ready to take on the government when that is their primary role. To leave the business of checking corruption only to the political class is to lower the standards of democracy.

Time was when it was expected of political leaders to adhere to moral rules more strictly than common citizens. For, given their high office, they decide and act on behalf of those they govern. Moreover, by and large, their choices and actions affect more people, often in more serious ways, than the choices and actions of common citizens, not least as an example to others. But when politicians break all the rules and then cover up their tracks through blatant political lying, there is a cause of grave concern because the other actors in society also believe they can get away by subverting the law. When politicians lack moral authority, the rule of law collapses; interest groups jump into the moral vacuum and manipulate the system by adopting the moral high ground and pointing to the failure of the state. This is being witnessed in Meghalaya today. The political leadership has lost its moral authority to rein in the reactionaries waiting in the wings to bully the government to follow their diktat.

Once a government is pushed into a corner and appeasement politics takes over there are very slim chances that it will stand up to other forms of bullying from other quarters. The downward slide is imminent. Covid has only hastened the slide.

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