Fighting for Meghalaya’s soul
By Patricia Mukhim
In the last few days when citizens silently suffered the transport strike and a seven-hour load-shedding[H1] ,[H2] [H3] social media became the battleground against the government. Some despondent souls even called Meghalaya a failed state. And this while the Chief Minister was in Delhi meeting Union Ministers, after which he took off for Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh for a function. While at Tawang the CM tweeted vigorously as he walked on the snow and was seen with a bow and arrow doing target practice. This is all fine and the CM deserves a break but not when the State is passing through ‘dark’[H4] [H5] times literally.
To be fair to Conrad Sangma, his government inherited a decrepit system and near empty coffers. The MeECL did not suddenly reach a point of collapse. It has been in the ICU for a while now but no one had the guts to take the necessary action to turn it around because those actions have a political cost and vote-bank politics has always been more important than the state and its people. And that is how Meghalaya’s soul has been mortgaged to the goddess of political expediency. That soul is being squeezed out and now has reached a point when it might just die. It is our collective duty to redeem the soul of a state that our ancestors envisioned many years ago.
Why has the soul of Meghalaya suffered this assault? It is because our elected representatives and all of us who elected them have forgotten our commitments to the standards of right and wrong so cogently elucidated by our ancestors. We are mixing fact with fiction and truth with falsehood in determining what sort of governance we should have. The pitch of the battle for the soul of Meghalaya is whether or not we the people will assume the burden of healing that troubled and ailing soul and bring it back on track. We live in a democracy (not a pre-independent state with archaic and arbitrary laws and rules). The broad consensus in a democracy is that it is in debating, contesting, and determining the standards of governance without resorting to violence that preserves the vitality, freedom, and equality of a democracy.
Democracy lives or dies depending on the freedom that citizens possess to determine who should rule, but that freedom is bound to standards of right and wrong. Democracy is a communicative reality that withers when silence or a dreadful monotone allows a rule by forces that bypass the Constitutional principles of safeguarding the environment and the larger good of the citizens. Freedom of religion, speech, and assembly for everyone are necessary conditions for that non-violent work of self-governance. Thinkers like Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and others, have attested that when standards of fact, truth, and right no longer vitalize public debate about governance then tyranny engulfs a people. We the people (the voters) need to reaffirm our faith in the Constitution of India and not on any diktat outside of it.
Many will question if the state has a soul. It was Plato who spoke about the soul of a nation in the Republic. Plato says the state is infused with a soul that resembles the soul of a person. “Must we not acknowledge,” Plato averred, “that in each of us there are the same principles and habits which there are in the State; and that from the individual they pass into the State?” These principles, he maintained, are reason, will, and appetite
According to Plato, in a healthy individual which in turn extends to the state, reason directs the soul by orchestrating cooperation between the passions and the will. Accordingly, the healthy individual must possess (1) temperance (rational constraint over the appetites), (2) wisdom (knowledge and prudence), and (3) courage (not being afraid to do what is right). All the three principles are missing in those that govern the state of Meghalaya. The rulers have an insatiable appetite for lucre and this dictates their every action; there is neither knowledge nor prudence in our rulers, and, citizens lack courage to stand up and be counted. They see their Rights and Freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution as gifts that would fall from the heavens without putting up a fight. That’s where we are wrong. Nothing comes easy and nothing can be achieved without questioning the government.
For a long time, citizens have learnt to approach pressure groups with their problems and therefore given them illegitimate power over themselves. That’s because protesting means sacrifice and citizens are hesitant to make that sacrifice.
Plato remarks that the healthy state is akin to a healthy individual, for in such a state the leader who leads by reason, is wise. This means that he is knowledgeable and prudent in statecraft and his decisions are aimed at promoting the welfare of the state and its citizens. The citizens, in turn are temperate. This means they exercise rational self-control including over destructive impulses such as ones motivated by hatred and blind rage. In a healthy state the police should represent the people not the rulers. While they have to follow the rules, that does not mean blind obedience at the expense of endangering the soul of the state. And police should not allow themselves to be used by politicians
In Meghalaya today there is a blur between fact and lies. The fact is that coal mining carries on unabated. The lies fed to us the citizens by the state, is that coal mining isn’t happening. The Government is allowing coal mining to happen because it has a pre-election promise to coal mine owners to fulfil. So coal is mined surreptitiously with the full support of the government machinery. The government is lying. It is committing perjury every time it says there is no coal mining and trucks are seen carrying coal by the hundreds daily. Facts cannot be played around, nor can the safety and security of citizens be sacrificed for political gain. The government does not exist to advance the personal wealth or advantage of its ministers, bureaucrats and police.
This dark side of the government has also pushed the citizens to turn against each other; it’s the mine owners versus those who care for the environment. The mine owners are fired by hatred and the desire to do violence to others. They have lost the rational constraint and no longer think of the future. For them it’s now or never and anyone who stands between them and mining must be treated as the enemy. In this struggle for the soul of Meghalaya, it is unfortunate that the legislators have sided with the destructors of the environment when they should have acted in accordance with the law and not acquiesce in activities that undermine the rule of law.
As citizens we need to get past the veneer of politics and narrow self-interest and to look at the larger picture of Meghalaya which is today at the crossroads. The choice is that of moving towards a healthier soul, healing from its wounds, uniting to fight corruption in all its forms and perhaps even moving towards a clean election campaign. The alternative is to plunge deeper into the dark, chaotic, self-defeating cauldron where Meghalaya’s soul might be finally buried.
The young are getting despondent and impatient. They are looking for someone who can start the revolution of cleansing Meghalaya of the stench of corruption and bad governance. Who will lead this fight for Meghalaya’s soul?