Money and elections in Meghalaya

There is much agonising in the Congress camp about whether they will win the bye-election in the now vacant Mawryngkneng MLA constituency, following the demise of sitting MLA, David Nongrum recently. Congress MLA, Ampareen Lyngdoh had recently told the media that money will be the main driver for the bye-election and she is right. Across political parties, money has played a key role in deciding the winner or loser in every election since the 1990s. With time and with the growth of the coal business and the need of the coal ‘barons’ to control the politics of Meghalaya the role of money has gained momentum. Today political power is vested in the hands of a few families and individuals, all of whom run some business or the other. An MLA cannot afford to live only on his/her salary. He/she must also engage in some business or the other to survive the constant demand on his/her resources, mainly financial.

The situation in Meghalaya today is such that even basic healthcare is not accessible to rural constituents and the urban poor. To meet their healthcare needs, people go to their MLAs and expect them to fund their hospital and medical bills. That is only one area of need. There are many other areas for which the constituents depend on their MLAs. As a result the MLA scheme was conceived of to deal with these exigencies of the constituents, apart from building and repairing roads, footpaths and schools etc. But the MLA scheme has over the years become an election investment. MLAs don’t give an account of how the MLA scheme is spent. The money is used to dole out cleverly contrived “assistance” to the constituents who believe that it comes from the MLA’s private pockets and hence feel obliged to vote for the MLA concerned.

The Mawryngkneng election will be fought against this reality and the other cruel reality that the Congress is today in the Opposition and hence the Party is not flushed with funds at the state or the central level. People in some of these constituencies have been so used to getting money on the eve of casting their votes that their appetites are already whetted and there’s no putting back the clock. Like a former bureaucrat turned politician of Nagaland recently said in an interview, “The people of Nagaland have become so corrupt that they will slip on a one rupee note.” It sounds offensive but it’s also a universal truth of this region. Money talks and wins elections. There may be several candidates and all of them may be spending money but the one who spends the most is sure to win. That’s democracy in Meghalaya today. Take it or leave it! The moral and ethical fibre of the so-called tribes that spoke sanctimoniously about their traditional values has all but collapsed.

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