2021 by-polls: Dynastic elections

By Albert Thyrniang

Whenever a public representative passes away, the immediate thought is, “Who from the family will succeed him or her?” Mawryngkneng, Mawphlang and Rajabala are clear examples. Not long after David Nongrum suddenly died in February this year, the Congress workers in Mawryngkneng constituency approached the Pyngrope-Nongrum family to identify a person of their choice to ‘carry on’ the ‘legacy’ of the deceased. His father, Charles Pyngrope had to come out in public firmly insisting that no one from the family would contest the ensuing by-election. When Azad Zaman from Rajabala expired due to cardiac arrest in March this year the Congress promptly nominated Hasina Yasmin Mondol, wife of the former MLA for the by-poll. The same was played out in Mawphlang after SK Sunn succumbed to COVID-19 in September. The UDP, with support from the HSPDP, quickly called upon Sunn’s son, Eugeneson Lyngdoh to abandon the football arena and jump into the electoral field.
Family members of expired legislators have every right to contest elections but what is worrying is that all other criteria are completely ignored. Experience, educational qualification, capability, party loyalty, merit are no consideration. Eugeneson was an active footballer plying his trade with East Bengal FC. He had to be persuaded to give up his passion in favour of politics. The 35 year old who has played for various clubs and for India is a famed footballer but he is less than a political novice. The privilege is being an offspring of the ex-legislator. More celebrated sport-persons do not catch the eyes politicians. Hasina too is the Congress nominee since she is the widow of the late Rajabala MLA. The ticket was handed to her not because she is a woman, nor because she is the most capable and not because she is the best to carry the mantle in the next one year. This is sheer dynastic politics. Here too all political parties are silent because all are culprits. Congress has the Mukul dynasty, NPP the PA Sangma dynasty and the UDP is a promoter of family politics of late. This is no blessing to Meghalaya. The tendency extends to reservations and government jobs in the form of nepotism. It is a discouraging scenario for hard working, educated and meritorious youths. Lahkmen Rymbui’s call for youngsters to emulate Eugeneson is hollow. It is applicable only to youths with political lineage.
The effect is clearly seen during the campaign trails. The political discourse has no substance because sympathy wave, being a major factor, ‘blood line’ candidates exploit it while adversaries try to negate it by bypassing important issues in the meantime. So, we have the speakers in Mawphlang sounding like stand-up comedians. To combat the Congress which is projecting its candidate, Kennedy Khyriem as the most experienced and hence most deserving among the thee contestants having been an MLA for 5 years, the UDP’s Brol Nongsiej and aide of its beginner candidate assured voters that any concern is unfounded because he will tutor the rookie once elected. Not be left behind the Deputy Chief Minister, Prestone Tynsong admitted that the NPP candidate, Lamphrang Blah may not be the most capable but he would beat up Blah if he makes mistakes as a legislator. Tynsong’s claim of telling that Mukul Sangma’s rightful place is the verandah of the Secretariat is also childish. In Mawryngkneng, though David Nongrum’s ‘choice’ is absent, even rival candidates call on his name. The winners of October 30 polls could be decided by sympathy votes. Unending broken promises do not matter. This paper’s editorial yesterday points to how political parties have no ideology and road map for development. The regional parties love to keep the fear psychosis alive with their favourite unsubstantiated oratory of the imminent dangers facing the indigenous community.
Another glaring reality is that candidates depend not on their own forte but on the strength of party bigwigs. If Highlander Kharmalki emerges victorious the credit goes mainly to Charles Pyngrope, Ampareen Lyngdoh and others. If Hasina creates history by being the first woman legislator from Rajabala, she owes it to Mukul Sangma in particular. If Eugeneson scores a stunning winning ‘goal’, the sumptuous assist comes from the UDP bosses. If the NPP upset other rivals, the star campaigners, Conrad Sangma and Tynsong are the real winners.
Hasina is the lone woman in the fray in the present elections. Though a B. Sc and B. Ed holder we know why the 37-year-old became the first woman contestant from the minority community in Rajabala. Whether we are matriarchal or matrilineal our society is still male dominated. Men and women are both blamed. We don’t realise that tradition can be a curse. We are enslaved by age-old traditions and customs. The English writer G.K. Chesterton, in his much acclaimed Orthodoxy has these strong words, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure…, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” The South Indian mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti, often seen in YouTube and Facebook frighteningly warns, “Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.” Equally scary is Warren Ellis’ blunt remark, “Tradition is one of those words conservative people use as a shortcut to thinking.” No tradition is sacrosanct. If a tradition holds us back it has to be modified and even discarded. A tradition that is anti-21st century is superfluous. A tradition that does not promote gender equality should be done away with. Preserving a tradition for its own sake is pointless. So what if it has been followed from time immemorial? It would be a disaster if our minds decay because we simply rely on traditions.
It is a tragedy if we cling on to traditions though they are detrimental to growth. It is a shame that the Khasi Hills Autonomous District (Appointment and Succession of Syiem, Deputy Syiem, Electors and Rangbah Shnong of Mylliem Syiemship) Act, 2007, still has a provision forbidding women to vote in the election of the Rangbah Shnong in this day and age. If in localities in Shillong, Shella confederacy and other villages women are already electors then the Act is no longer relevant. Amendment is the natural outcome. Ka Sur Ki Nong Mawlai (The Voice of Mawlai People) must pursue the matter to its logical conclusion. If women are not empowered in traditional institutions, in vain is the expectation that they will make the cut in democratic institutions. Remember Letty Cottin Pogrebin’s quote, “When men are oppressed, it’s a tragedy. When women are oppressed, it’s tradition.” In this connection the Congress’ decision to reserve 40% seats for women in UP elections is commendable. At least a start is initiated.
The absence of anti-defection law in ADCs is an eyesore. Lamphrang Blah has donned the NPP colours but he remains a Congress elected MDC. If he does not win he might return and reassume the office of the Leader of Opposition in KHADC. It is a mockery really! But no party talks of it because it benefits all across the board. That being a MDC is not an office of profit is ridiculous. Salary and perks of MDCs come from the tax payers’ money. How can a person hold the dual office of an MLA and MDC at the same time? The citizens of the state must rise up to bring in the anti-defection law in ADCs and ban holding dual posts. Concentration of power in one person is only in a dictatorial system.
The Harijan Colony issue is unnecessarily dragged into the bye-elections. The timing of the announcement of the government to evict the residents of Punjabi Lane based on the recommendation of The High Level Committee (HLC) is political. Knowing fully well, due to the court ruling and other logistics, that it would be impossible to take possession of the land within one week, the government intentionally announced the dateline for political mileage. Having politicised the social subject, the government can’t fault the Opposition for calling it ‘Election propaganda’. The rhetoric of eviction of the ‘Sweepers’ at Them Iew Mawlong found echo even in Rajabala, more than 300 KMs away, where the issue is of little significance.
The HNLC’s threat to the NPP is also game. Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma suspects the placing of the bomb outside the NPP office is linked to the bye-elections. If ministers take advantage of a situation, the outlawed won’t do better. The HNLC blames the NPP for the death of its ‘retired’ general secretary Cheristerfield Thangkhiew. Many others too hold the NPP-led Government for the killing. Citizens protest. Gunmen threaten. The government has to deal with it. More than the political angle the proscribed organisation might have used it as a tactic to have a share of the pie of the alleged ATMs of the NPP at highways. It could be possible beneficiaries of illegal coal trade with HNLC being paid off after the threat. We know that governments pay to protesting pressure groups to keep them quiet. Money might have passed on to militants’ hands as well.
November 2 will be a booster or a dampener for the Congress, NPP and UDP. Dynasty aided by persona of big names could be the definition for the 2021 by-elections.
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