Monday, July 22, 2024

Weakening the democratic set up


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By Albert Thyrniang

“All 5 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya join BJP-backed Meghalaya Democratic Alliance” was the headline of most national media recently. The point made is that, in the rare of rarest case, the Congress and BJP are now coalition partners in this state. The unimaginable has happened. The five beamingly posed for photographs along with the Chief Minister displaying their letter of support to his government. The rebels were promptly suspended by Congress for their unilateral decision. Unfazed by the show cause notice, four of the five legislators are already on plum posts with one likely to be inducted as minister. The grand old party will have to expel them. What happens next will be unfolded but the behaviour of the ‘netas’ is least appreciated.
It is amply clear now that the Congress MLAs are incapable of sitting in the Opposition. They are unable to function in opposition benches. The diametrical ideological difference with the saffron party is forgotten in a flash. The plea that as opposition members they are deprived of development in their constituencies is an insult to the democratic set up. This is a lame excuse for not doing their work. MLA schemes are there. The opposition members too can apply for projects for their constituencies. If the government denies their dues they should protest loud and clear. They should make known the unfair treatment of the government. This is the role of the opposition. To say that opposition MLAs can benefit only if they stop being in opposition is an affront to the Constitution itself.
The Constitution clearly spells out the role of the opposition in all elected bodies. Democracy can survive and is strengthened only if there is a strong opposition. It is the opposition that makes the government answerable to the people. It is the opposition that keeps a check on the policies, performance, failures, commissions and omissions of the government. It is the opposition which keeps the government on tenderhooks. In the absence of a robust opposition who will question the government? The five respected MLAs can weaken the Congress but they have no right to weaken the democratic frame work. They were elected as opposition and should play their role as best as they can. By their actions they have fed wrong information to the public that a government allots developmental works only to its own MLAs or those who support it and unless they join the government they are deprived of development. Voters should be highly wary of the now suspended Congress MLAs. Legislators who scatter all over the place in just five years in opposition do not deserve to be in politics.
The effects of the alliance of the MLAs with the MDA is already visible. The opposition to the illegal mining in the state has disappeared. Ampareen Lyngdoh has made a volte-face on illegal coal mining and trade. Bizarrely the East Shillong MLA has said that as an urban MLA she is unaware of the issue. One never knew of her extremely narrow outlook. That her concern is limited to her constituency alone is shocking. If illegal mining which affects the whole state, damages the environment irrevocably and an open invitation for corruption does not bother her, then one is at a loss for words. Since now that the hundreds of trucks do not ply through the main thoroughfares of Laitumkhrah illegality does not distress her. It is appalling. We can infer, therefore, that she is indifferent to poverty, illiteracy, lack of education, health care and other basic amenities, high dropout rate, infant mortality, teen pregnancies and other numerous challenges in the other parts of the state. A lawmaker contributes to legislations that extends far beyond a Legislative Assembly segment. This ‘don’t care’ attitude of the MLA for her political convenience is condemnable.
Illegal mining is an open secret. Many labourers are in mines. Incidents have come to light from time to time. Tragedies have occurred regularly, the latest being the coal quarry deaths at Langmar village (Shallang). In spite of these clear leads the government insists on hard evidences and is firm on not ordering a probe. This is purely to hide the underworld business that benefits the coal mafia, politicians and government officials. It stands accused of lying. With new friends on its side the government is emboldened to continue ignoring demands for an independent inquiry. If the government escapes being scrutinized it is also because responsible people like Ampareen show no conviction whatsoever as to what is good and bad for the state. When one shifts one’s position so easily on an issue as serious illegal mining then politics is left without any principles.
The government has no right to deny development to the opposition. However, it is up to the party in power to promise greener pastures to those who in opposition to weaken it. Questions are, therefore, directed to those who fall into the trap in the guise of development. Should ideology for which they profess be forgotten for the sake of power? Should they turn their backs on their party in favour of their own ambitions? Which party allows their MPs or MLAs to act without sanction? The five state that they want to convey a message to the High Command. Unless they desire to pioneer an era in which elected representatives decide for themselves independently they are in an imaginary world. Mamata Banerjee, as manifesting right now, won’t permit her party’s parliamentarians and legislators to take a course on their own. Shiv Sena’s, Uddhav Thackeray will take his decision. K. Chandrashekar Rao centralises party matters of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. Mayawati of the BSP does not tolerate indiscipline. Akhilesh Yadav of the SP is the ultimate authority. J. Javalalithaa and Karunanidhi once had firm control of party affairs. The legacy will pass on. The BJP which once ridiculed the Congress’ high command culture, is copying the same under the very same nomenclature.
The five Congress MLAs have already decided to part ways with the ‘sunken ship’. Candidates are already in election preparation mode. Media reports have indicated that Ampareen Lyngdoh and Kimfa Marbaniang will enrol with the NPP. PT Sawkmie has warmed up with the UDP and Mayralborn Syiem might follow suit. In due time confirmation will come.
The biggest beneficiary is undoubtedly the NPP. The appeal of Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma has been enhanced. The NPP has emerged stronger due to the ‘political quid pro quo’. Is it justified for the government to incur additional spending from the state exchequer for the gain of the ruling party? The co-chairmen of the Meghalaya New and Renewable Energy Development Agency (MNREDA), Meghalaya Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and Meghalaya Government Construction Company (MGCC) have to be paid with perks and facilities under Category “A+”. Without a co-chairman were these agencies handicapped? Will these agencies record marked improvements with the in-coming new bosses? What will the new chairmen bring to the table of nodal agencies for the central government? When chairmen are there why co-chairmen? These are mere political rewards mainly in exchange for political support? Is it not a waste of public money?
The action of the five MLAs is to counter the former colleagues in the AITC. It is also a sign that the NPP might dump the BJP sooner or later. Their relationship is getting strained. Former minister, AL Hek is more a critic of than an adviser to the Chief Minister. The party accused the state government of providing misleading information on implementation of the central schemes to the central government. In Manipur the two are fighting the election separately. NEDA and Assam Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma declared his party does not need the NPP. With the latest development, in Meghalaya it may be the other way around. The NPP might not need the BJP in 2023.
Loyalty is a rare virtue in politics. Out of power for all and the unresolved leadership crisis the Congress has seen it in plenty. Abandoning the party has happened over and over again. From 17 in 2017 to just 2 in 2022 in Goa, from 28 in 2017 to mere 13 in 2022 in Manipur, the Meghalaya Congress could beat the record. The once largest party and then a formidable opposition of 17 MLAs, the Congress might end up with zero representative in the State Legislative Assembly for the first time in a long time. In the recent Goa elections the Congress and other parties went to the extent of making their candidates swear by the Gita, Quran and Bible in a temple, mosque and church, respectively not to leave party after the polls. Whether or not this works remains to be seen. How this attrition from a 137 year old party pans out is a matter of conjecture. If the trick pays off post March 10, the churches in Meghalaya could see similar scenes.


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