Khublei Meghalaya: May you be that shining outpost!

By Patricia Mukhim

Meghalaya is 50 today. If Meghalaya was a person, 50 is the age when one looks back and smiles at what one has achieved, frowns at missed opportunities, and releases a slight chuckle at those moments. The years between fifty and seventy are the hardest. You are always being asked to do things, and yet you are not decrepit enough to turn them down, said TS Elliot in. “The Calloused Hand.” So no, Meghalaya is not yet decrepit because she does not drive but is driven by some young, energetic leaders who were elected to drive this vehicle with 34 lakh people on board. A lot depends on where we the passengers want to go and what we do when we reach our destination every five years.
For us humans touching 50 comes with a touch of gray at the sideburns, but otherwise a more mature, wiser and experienced look. Is that how Meghalaya looks today. This was a state born out of the angst of many to be independent of Assam’s strangle-hold and its cussedness to impose on us an unfamiliar language – Assamese. Sometimes you wonder at this strange posturing of the Assamese leadership then. It’s a desire to control the tribes by making them cringe with the sheer weight of the thought that they would have to compulsorily have to learn to speak and write a language that’s new to them. English was bad enough and the fact that Khasi is not a recognized language meant that we would have to write our Board exams in English while all other students from different language groups could write the Matric exams in the vernacular. If this is not an uneven battlefield then I wonder what is.
The fire that was lit in the hearts and minds of the Khasi ( and here I include all sub-groups – Khynriam, Pnar/Synteng, Bhoi, War, Lyngngam) people then was firstly to throw off that yoke of the language imposition. As a young girl of 10 years I recall being led by my mother who though uneducated was quite an activist, to one of those protest marches near the Secretariat. We were told to shout in unison, “We Want Hill State; No Hill State No Rest. We Oppose Assamese.” This rang out loud and clear and we had leaders then that were worthy of our trust. None of them died rich. One of them was GG Swell – a man who many failed to understand but he had a mind of his own. He rose through sheer merit to become the Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha. There was Hoover Hynniewta, PR Mawthoh, Moristo Swer, BB Lyngdoh, PR Kyndiah and a number of gentle ladies like Kong Rose Warjri (the mother of Roshan Warjri), Kong Bon Marbaniang (mother of Angel Marbaniang the former Principal Lady Keane College) and many others whose names don’t appear because they were women. But let’s leave this gender debate for another day.
Those ruling the state of Meghalaya have done very little to commemorate these personalities that were responsible for achieving the dream of an autonomous Meghalaya where we would be the masters of our own destinies. The younger generation in fact know very little about how Meghalaya was born. It is true that some of these personalities were afflicted by flights of fancy to be chief minister of Meghalaya. That desire turned into an obsession and the hurly burly of politics overtook the need to chart out a more decisive goal for the state in the area of health, education, the economy and of the best way to make use of natural resources without depleting the fragile ecosystem. These needed statesmanship of a very high order! Here the leaders were found wanting. Politics and the quest for power dominated the early leadership in Meghalaya because of which there was political instability created by coalition governments that never lasted a full five-year term until the nineties. Meghalaya was wracked by the affliction of rotating chief ministers with each partner out to checkmate or blackmail the other. Politics in Meghalaya had become a promiscuous game. That this should happen in its formative years when stability was needed to steer its course reeks of a political culture gone obscene.
Then we had a saga of jumbo-sized cabinets as MLAs were wooed to support a government. Thankfully that painful saga is over. Or is it? Isn’t the appointment of advisers to the present chief minister with the pay and perks of a minister one way of circumventing the 91st Amendment of the Constitution which in 2004 restricted the size of the ministry to 15%. In many ways the style of governance today is not very different from what it was 40 or 30 years ago. Politics is rife with treachery and cut-throat business deals at the cost of the state exchequer. The other day a person working with the Central Government’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs who is here to evaluate the progress of the Smart City project of Shillong asked a few people their views of the progress of the project. To be frank, one has not seen anything smart about Shillong city. The roads are unsmart because they have not tackled the monstrous traffic jams. We haven’t yet seen the rain water harvesting projects. We only see some work happening vis a vis the Laitumkhrah market.
Meghalaya must be the only state where roads are made by the State PWD without any drains. The result? Roads are eroded with the first flush of monsoon. I once asked the PWD officials working somewhere in Shella whose brief it is to make drains by the side of the road and got some wishy-washy answers. I can put up several photographs of roads with no drains that have been recently repaired and where rain water flows right through the middle of the road. Someone has to answer this and who better than the PWD Minister who is himself from the family which owns a construction company and which is taking up most of the road construction in the state. Many roads inside the localities in Shillong city are without drains. So the smart city project seems like a no go area.
Like many other writers I would not like to delve too much into the past and turn politicians with proclivities for power into heroes. They all had their failings. They may not have displayed brazen opportunism and a wealth-creation mania but they did have a penchant for power for its own sake and not for the genuine progress of the state. The only person who tried to bring in both political and administrative reforms and set about enunciating policies for a state that did not have a single policy brief until 1988 was PA Sangma. Sangma put a cap on land compensation for road making projects and irked some of the business tycoons of Meghalaya. They toppled his government with the tacit support of politicians who indulged in the most despicable backroom conspiracies. That too is part of Meghalaya’s sordid history that cannot be easily forgotten because it revealed the ruthless nature of political players the state has produced and people had elected.
And now we have a clutch of technocrats out to feather their nests out of every road construction or other project that the state undertakes. Anyone who travels on the shortcut from Mawlai along NEHU to Mawiong at the ISBT junction would have seen all kinds of buildings coming up and encroaching onto the main road. Most of the land by the roadside is owned by our engineers. So too, much of the land by the side of the Shillong by-pass. And we still dare to swear that ‘land belongs to the people?’ Who are we trying to con?
On Meghalaya’s 50th year, as a citizen I would dare the MDA Government to carry out a cadastral survey of the entire state. It’s time to call the bluff of politicians, bureaucrats, technocrats and the business class. If the MDA Government cannot undertake the cadastral survey then let us make this our main election plank for 2023.
Sorry Meghalaya that all this has to be said on your Birthday!

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