A peep into Meghalaya’s pressure groups

By Albert Thyrniang

In Meghalaya we are, in one way or the other, affected by pressure groups and their activities of strikes, protests and agitations. What defines these ‘Sengbhalang’ (common welfare groups)?
The first attribute of pressure groups is male dominance. A vast majority of these groups are run by men. All the office bearers or executive members of central bodies and units are men. There are hardly any women. All speakers in rallies and agitations are men. Women do cheer in the crowds. “Ka Sur Ki ‘Nong Mawlai” (The Voice of Mawlai People) is an all-male conglomerate group. In its protest rallies against the alleged ‘cold blooded’ killing of the former HNLC leader, Cheristerfield Thangkhiew on August 13, the male dominance is for the world to see. All the speakers who lambasted the government are men. The very pedestals they stand on while they attack ministers are meant for men. They stand atop vehicles to raise catchy slogans. Women, certainly will feel uncomfortable climbing these high platforms. Why have suitable stands when all ‘climbers’ are men?
A women’s group has emerged from Mawlai to lend its support to “Ka Sur Ki ‘Nong Mawlai”. Only after more than a fortnight is there space for women; that too separately and not in the main organisation! Why? Is it because of the male syndrome that ideas come only from men? That planning is to be done by men? That discussion and deliberation is the prerogative of male leaders? That women are only to listen and agree with whatever men propose? Do we still carry the mentality that women have no place in ‘dorbars’ (councils)? Were women a part of the decision to form “Ka Sur Ki ‘Nong Mawlai”? Were women folk taken into confidence? Were women consulted to chalk out the different programmes of the ‘Voice’? Pressure groups in our state are male-centric.
Women perhaps feel obliged to stand by their male counterparts. A lady speaker tried to be even better than men. She referred to the Home Minister, Lahkmen Rymbui as ugly in person and character. Is that civil? She also demanded that the Home Minister hand over policemen involved in shooting Thangkhiew to the group. Is this not street justice? Is this the rule of law? She even communalised the shooting episode.
A couple of NGOs are run by women. Leaders are educated and informed. They are doing the actual work. They have made the government uncomfortable in the illegal mining and transportation of coal and the ‘siphoning’ of pandemic funds meant for the poor. They have a different approach from the ‘confrontational’ pressure groups.
One has been impressed by the creativity of “Ka Sur Ki ‘Nong Mawlai”. The very name is brilliant. Soon it inspired ‘Ka Sur Ki Nong West’, ‘Ka Sur Ki Nong Malki’, ‘Ka Sur Iewrynghep’ and others to emerge for the same cause. The knife surrendering rally and dumping of the traditional tools at the entrance of the Secretariat is an innovation.
Soon after the unfortunate incident in Mawlai Kynton Massar the 11 groups met to ‘decide the course of action’ as a united front. They came up with a sustained action plan for the government to take notice.
But have pressure groups met together to discuss other issues confronting the state? Have they gathered in a venue against the blatant illegal coal business? Have they brained-stormed on the rice scam and the scams in MeECL (a new one, the smart meters project scam has come to light)? Have pressure groups deliberated on the poor education in the state? Do they have any solutions to offer? Are they aware of the causes of the pathetic education scenario? Is it a concern for them? They have probably met multiple times on ILP? ILP may be important. What will happen after its implementation? Will it serve any purpose if the state is a den of illegality and scams and if education is stagnant? ILP is no saviour. Perhaps, the pressure groups do not want an enlightened, educated and thinking citizenry or else all the masses might no longer follow them. If the mob mentality disappears it may be bad news.
Everyone agrees that justice should be delivered, that culprits should be punished, that the inquiry should be impartial. That point has been made crystal clear. Now that a judicial probe headed by the head of the state’s Human Rights Commission has been ordered it is best to wait for its outcome. Why adamantly demand for the suspension of the ‘involved’ police officers? What if they only followed orders? Then why should the order givers (say politicians) roam free during the probe period while the subordinates are humiliated? Where is justice?
This takes us to the next point, which is that pressure groups are by and large confrontational. The six organisers of “Ka Sur Ki ‘Nong Mawlai” have even dared not to reply to the show-cause notice issued to them by the East Khasi Hills Deputy Commissioner (DC). Can an ordinary citizen have the courage to ignore a DC’s show-cause notice? The person will probably face imminent arrest. We have to wait and watch what the DC does to these pressure group leaders who have challenged the lawful authority.
Pressure groups have mushroomed in recent years. Some groups have been formed by members who were in another group. On April 27 this year a writer of a letter to the editor bluntly stated that ex-members of a group formed another group for ‘personal gratification, media attention, power, money and their attempt to control the former group’. No one has a problem if groups are founded. But it must be noted that while these groups plead for unity from the ‘Jaitbynriew’ (Khasi Society) they themselves liberally split over mundane issues for personal interests. They can’t work together.
The same letter also revealed the clandestine affairs between some pressure groups and the government of the day. These groups are a proxy of the government to get favours. They aligned with the previous government earlier and now with the MDA government to counter their rivals. The writer named ministers and the groups who had long secret meetings. There was no denial. It might have been true. The unsuccessful Peace Committee formed by the government post the August 15 violence including some groups and excluding others is a reiteration of the point in place. No wonder no pressure group has spoken against the wrong-doings of the government.
Pressure groups exploit the emotions of the people pleading they stand for the ‘Jaitbynriew.’ That’s how they appeal to the people. They exaggerate the ‘outsider’ issue, ILP, dangers of uranium, dangers from railways, border disputes, etc. It must be made clear. They have not been mandated to decide for the people. Even an elected government does not represent the whole state. The Opposition also is a representative of the people. The Modi government with an overwhelming majority got the mandate only from 31 percent of the population. So the insistence of pressure groups to represent the ‘Jaitbynriew’ is hollow.
Unfortunately for the pressure groups it is often either their way or the highway. Others have no alternative but to accept their decisions. So, public hearings on cement factories in East Jaintia Hills District were forcefully disrupted. Not that one propagates for these hazardous factories but the views of others should also be heard. Railway machineries were vandalised in Byrnihat to stop construction of railway lines without respecting the views of those who favour the coming of trains to Ri Bhoi. The two lane Nongstoin-Ranikor road was physically stalled without scant respect for the majority who wanted the project.
It is learned that a TV channel is initiating a discussion on the leadership crisis in the state that was cruelly exposed during the Shillong (Mawlai) violence recently. The government displayed little leadership role. The Home Minister, the captain became a recluse and tamely offered to quit. Ministers, former minister, opposition leaders, Rangbah Shong (village headmen) and the intellectuals seemed to agree with pressure groups. Religious leaders said nothing. The majority of us were mute spectators. Does no one have better ideas?
More serious is that no one condemned the violence. Not against the stone pelters, not against the arson committers, not against those who petrol-bombed the Chief Minister’s residence; not those that attacked the governor’s convoy; not even against the gun-snatchers and vehicle burners. The majority of us were mere mute spectators. Silence is complicity to crimes.
Populist leadership was on display in the current Assembly session. Stunningly Saleng Sangma requested political parties not to put up anyone against late SK Sunn’s family in the bye-election. The NCP leader is unaware of the implications of such undemocratic precedence. Does it mean that whenever an MLA passes away, a direct entry of a kin to the Assembly is assured? His suggestion should be expunged.
Pressure groups are not untouchable. They have a role to play. But they are not the sole custodians of ‘Ka Jaitbynriew.’We need not surrender our thoughts to anyone.
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