Beyond 50 years of Meghalaya
By Benjamin Lyngdoh
It would be demeaning to say that 50 years of Meghalaya has been an utter failure. On the other hand, it would be foolish to believe that the achievements till date reflect its true potential. In fact, the achievements in agriculture, education, arts and culture, tourism, job creation, investment friendly business environment, etc., must act as a wakeup call. The shortcomings far outweigh the achievements. To name a few, unemployment, corruption and cosmetic governance (whereby things are done only to show/deceive the people) are at the top of the pecking order. As dire are the shortcomings, the saying that ‘age is just a number’ makes sense. Hence, it is better to celebrate less and use the 50th year to be a representation of an assessment period. Give a report card to the people and let them give feedback on it. Let there be deliberations. Then only can we meaningfully decide what would be the future of Meghalaya beyond its 50th year. And no, this is not government centric. The government might change but the ethos of governance (to bring development) remains.
To start with, the government of the day is duty-bound to initiate the process of collaboration, assessment and chart a future blueprint through political consensus. But the chance of this happening is naught. This is because the MDA government is spearheading the statehood celebration as an event to earn brownie points. It is busy playing to the gallery. It wants to highlight achievements of the recent past and be in the good books of the people. Public memory is short and this is what the MDA is taking advantage of. By focussing on the inter-state border issues with Assam, Them Metor (Punjabi Lane) shifting, lifting of the ban on coal mining and Khasi/Garo language recognition, it is brushing aside many more important issues. The plight of school teachers (not just SSA) remains unresolved. Asking a teacher to teach and transform the future of a child without being paid themselves is a slap on the face of dignity. Shillong city is getting helplessly congested every year and yet there seems to be no plan in sight to remedy it. It is just a talk of flyovers now and then. Vendors are selling their goods on the footpaths and roads, yet there is no effort to solve this messy issue. Parents are being asked to pay fees in full for schools and colleges amidst the pandemic; where is the intervention by the government? These and many more are the issues being faced by the people every day. What about them? Are they not a part of the 50th year make-up?
On the hot topic, why is there a haste to attend to the border issue with Assam, it is a complex matter and unlikely to be resolved in a month. The people must see through the fragility of the exercise being conducted currently at the border areas. The contents in the electronic media are there for all to see. In all of the visits/inspection, the state government has come up under-prepared and has been reduced to a puppet whose strings are controlled by the Assam government. In most likelihood, Meghalaya will end up losing a lot of ground as per the ‘give and take policy’. It would be foolish to think that the MDA does not recognise this. Hence, it is in the fitness of things to tread wisely on the border issue.
Speaking of wisdom, the issue of unemployment has now become chronic. The other day a youth stated angrily that the politicians do not care for education and employment as their siblings study outside the state and as for jobs there is political nepotism all around. One of them said that his degree is useless and that he feels sorry for his parents for having spent so much on his studies. These are the issues that need attention. This writer believes that the two youth who expressed their views have spoken for the many thousands more. As a teacher, it is disheartening to converse on such issues, but we must. Unless we do we will not know the gravity of the problem. Will the present government and the successive ones take notice? Notice beyond the 50th year?
If we are really interested in solutions, it lies in assessing the strengths of Meghalaya. At the top of the pecking order are agriculture, tourism, arts and sports. Agriculture and tourism are closely related to rural development. Agro-enterprises have a huge employability scope. Some can be management level and many in operations. What is needed is an agriculture-centric incubation centre. This will drive agro-enterprise start-ups. It is about capturing the entire agricultural value chain. The time has come to not just sell raw agri-produce; rather, process them locally and market them extensively. This creates employment opportunities.
Rural tourism can transform the livelihoods of the villages. We have seen many examples of this. However, it must be developed only in places where there is potential; else, it will lead to waste management issues and destruction of the attraction (read The problem with Meghalaya’s tourism potential; The Shillong Times dated 21st January, 2020). Unlike agriculture, tourism services/activities are easier and quicker to train and develop. A scheme on tourism training/awareness is not a bad idea. It is needed so that the village communities can sustainably reap the benefits. The good thing now is that there are many students in our villages who are skilled in tourism activities. The government can think of engaging with them.
In arts and sports, there is talent aplenty. Having a weekly arts theatre where the youth can showcase their music, songs, acting, drama, films, etc can be highly motivating. All they need is a platform to take-off. Plus, every holiday/weekend morning one just needs to see the number of young boys and girls engaging themselves in sports (mostly football). There is potential in the locality/village grounds. A sports scouting mechanism is required that focuses on identifying talent early. Like the saying goes, ‘catch them young’!
In the end, the 50th year of statehood does not belong to the government (or opposition) that they would try to highlight achievements/failures. We are seeing enough of it every day. It is only a bombardment of chaos, deception and misdirection of the thoughts of the people from the real issues. The result is that the people are disillusioned and perplexed with the current state of affairs. Many have found solace on being indifferent and going numb on the issues afflicting Meghalaya. So, will it be a joyous and momentous occasion? Again and if we really dig into it, it is better to make the 50th year a period of assessment and planning for the future. Let the shortcomings of this era not be repeated in the 75th year of statehood (whether we still are there or not). The failure to do so will mean that we will be celebrating the 75th year with the same kind of cosmetics and fanfare with no real substance and pride.
(Email: [email protected]; the writer teaches at NEHU)