Meghalaya needs huge doses of hope
Cannot say RIP to Optimism
By Patricia Mukhim
As we proceed to observe Meghalaya’s 50th birthday we can nurture one of two emotions – hope or despair. And we do have a substantial number in this state who believe we are travelling in reverse gear and not getting anywhere. That is the height of pessimism. Meghalaya has progressed, although the pace could have been better with improved governance modules and an elected dispensation that is less self-centred and more caring about the state and its people. However, to paint all legislators with the same brush would be unfair. We have had elected representatives who have been exemplary in their conduct and service and we still have such MLAs even today. Hence we cannot write off everyone as being venal and in a rush to feather their nests. There are a few like that but should we blame them or those that elected them? If we really care about Meghalaya then we need to carry out a quick research as to why people elect the MLAs they do. The answers might surprise us. Only when we get to hear from the horse’s mouth will we understand how convoluted electoral politics is! Else we come to conclusions that may be far off the mark and then get into dystopia – a sort of Apocalyse now situation!
Above all, it’s important to ask ourselves as citizens of this state about our own contribution to the growth of Meghalaya. What has our contribution been? As educated citizens have we participated meaningfully and engaged with those in government when we see them following policies that are detrimental to the economic, social, political and intellectual growth of the people of Meghalaya? Venality and decadence are part of the human condition inasmuch as honour, dignity and integrity are. There is a little bit of the good and bad in us humans. Perhaps the problem is that there’s no one to stop the rot of hedonism before it progresses beyond the point of redemption.
I often think of each of the legislators we have elected and their capability. Some are not articulate in the English language but is that even a qualification? If they are able to communicate with their constituents, isn’t that good enough? If they have to answer questions in the Assembly there are officers in their department who can write out the answers and they can read from that written script. And in case they need to answer supplementaries they should be allowed to answer those in the vernacular. The heavens are not going to fall. The new Assembly building that will be inaugurated soon must have simultaneous translation facilities (from Khasi, Jaintia, Garo to English and vice versa). Many of us have attended world conferences where people proudly speak in their languages and that’s translated into several languages. Knowing English is not a badge of honour. Delivering good governance – which essentially means knowing what people actually need the most – is important. Legislators should create these platforms in their constituencies where people are allowed to articulate their deepest angst – whether that be education, healthcare, roads, agricultural growth or any other aspiration. These platforms will help MLAs to better understand the ground realities and respond better. They will also be able to give an account of what they have done during their 5-year tenure, beginning from the first year. We should do away with the habit of electioneering where a sitting MLA comes to the constituency only in the last year and gives an account of what he/she does because by then the anti-incumbency factor has already set in.
Also, since the majority of our MLAs reside outside their constituencies (in Shillong city) their understanding of the daily grind in their constituencies may not be optimal. They need to develop constant feedback channels that are robust and that tell them the truth – not what they like to hear. This might be a positive way of beginning the 51st year of Meghalaya.
We have heard ad-nauseum that Meghalaya has vast potentials but somehow those potentials have been scuttled and then begins the blame game. I have always said this and will repeat it – to be a citizen of a democracy one cannot reside in a comfort zone. One must work hard to get vital information on government schemes and how they are implemented and point out with facts and figures the anomalies one sees. Unfortunately, this muck-raking duty has been thrown squarely into the shoulders of the media as if media persons are the only repositories of democratic tenets. That’s the reason why venality thrives.
Very often when we speak of governance we tend to attribute every aspect of it to politicians, quite forgetting the huge army of bureaucrats that actually keep the governance machine well-oiled. The bureaucracy reaches or should reach the last mile in every sense of the term and we have seen that Meghalaya does have a cadre of officials that have served with integrity and passion and have felt the pain and suffering of people. It is because of such officers that Meghalaya is where it is today. True we have the bad apples but those survive purely on political patronage. What is demoralising for bureaucrats is to be given a punishment posting because they have called out corruption or become whistleblowers. This is where the public should step in because in a democracy it is the people who are the real rulers. If we the people don’t take responsibility and don’t stand with ethical officials it means we have handed over our power to elected representatives! It’s our fault that we didn’t stop corruption when we should have! So who do we blame and why should we blame the government when we as owners of that government decided to sit back and remain complicit by our studied silence?
On Meghalaya’s 50th birthday let’s count the many achievements and push for reforms in areas that need them. We need to get serious about pulling the MeECL from the precipice it’s now hanging precariously from. Education needs a complete makeover and we have eminent educationists who can be called upon to give it a new sense of direction. We cannot leave education to politicians and bureaucrats only. Health care needs urgent revamping. Here we have the IIPH Shillong to give a new sense of direction to research and data crunching which is critical to addressing public health issues. The IIM Shillong needs to be put to good use to enhance the capabilities of the state in certain key sectors. In Meghalaya’s 50th year, let’s get a commitment from the government that traditional institutions will be given due recognition and their functioning institutionalized so that they qualify for direct funding. This would serve two purposes. We would not be enslaved to politicians asking them for crumbs from the MLA scheme. Second the traditional institutions would become accountable as their expenditure and receipts would be subject to audits. Third, the particular needs of every Dorbar would be better addressed.
This in fact is a year for deep introspection. Our politics is not broken yet but its just that we are perpetually unhappy with whoever is holding the reins. This pessimism can spread quickly and turn people into cynics. Cynicism also means people have no hope of anything ever going right. But I choose to differ because I believe, like the English poet Alexander Pope, that “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: man never is, but always to be blest.” Hence a better way ahead is for whoever has a proposition for the government to also provide a roadmap for it.
Adults need to give hope to the younger generation, not to sow nihilism. The American Psychology Association reported that children who grew up in poverty but had success later in life all had one thing in common – hope. Dr. Valerie Maholmes, who worked on the research, said hope involves “planning and motivation and determination” to get what one hopes for. The opposite of hope is hopelessness and depression. Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,”
But hope does not mean expecting positive things to fall into our laps. It means that we have to work very hard to make that hope materialize.