The pinching iron-clad irony of our current state of affairs: An observation
By Ubahunlang D Tmar
Where do we stand now in the 50 years of our Statehood on the socio-political and economic development front? Does our trajectory of growth resemble any cold war era, ‘banana republic’ in South America or ‘tin-pot little African dictatorship’? Are we growing, stagnating or regressing? What we can read, sense and feet from social media and community interactions is that we are at present boiling, agitating and at each other’s throats. There is definitely a dormant pent-up societal restlessness and aggression which despises authority. It’s a ticking-bomb. Our daily traffic jam is a good metaphor of our present predicament of where we are heading and how we are behaving.
The youth are restless; the elderly are fed up. Some have resigned to their own cabins of existence. There is also a lethargy towards anything that has got to do with governance and politics, With the exception of pressure groups and NGOs, it seems society at large has become indifferent and has decided to stay away from participating in the socio-cultural, political and economic development of our polity; its every man/woman for himself/herself. Life has become a struggle especially to those at the lower stratum of society. As a society we have become numb and accepted our putrid and debased political environment. We have accommodated corruption and given it our own justification. We are more interested in reading memes to temporarily satisfy our minds and tormented existence. Our collective consciousness has degraded to the point where discussion of issues is no longer comprehensible or intelligent. We are swept by emotions. We prefer leaders who entertain and take a posture without any substance. We have abandoned critical reasoning. We qualify leaders from the grassroots to the state level on the basis of their talk not work.
We have elected leaders, some of them holding cabinet posts and other portfolios, that cannot even speak succinctly and fluently, forget about policy framing. Judging from the assembly deliberations, discussions, interviews we see on YouTube media channels, we can fairly and safely assume that most of our present public representatives don’t display or exhibit a capability, capacity or the sensitive intelligent comprehension of the future. We all have willingly conducted and allowed ourselves to be led into the abyss of destruction and societal chaos. We as an electorate are to blame for the fate we are in today. We have reaped what we sowed.
Our politics resembles the carcass of a dead society, only scavengers and opportunists munching and biting carelessly at every meat and bone. Election has become a cult festival instead of a sane civil deliberation and participation under the parameters of our Constitution. Democracy is dumb and dead the moment money become the centre and medium of exchange. Proceeding from this assertion, we can say, election now is also akin to the tendering process of who will control, sell and utilise the assets and resources of our State. Election is a commercial enterprise under the garb of social issues and development. This only leads to the emergence of crony capitalism and shoddy mercantilism.
In this hullabaloo of financial stress and economic stagnation, where is the Meghalaya State Planning Board? Does it still exist? Has it become bored? What has it done to address or highlight our economic condition? As an advisory board, how many fruitful discussions and meetings have they engaged in? What is its cogent, data-based advice? We would like to know and read the deliberations and recommendations of the Planning Board and it’s views on the state economic development and growth? Recently, we read about the 98 million dollar loan for tourism which roughly amounts to more than Rs 730 crores, which will likely put more future financial stress on the state and its people. We have had experiences in the past of schemes based on loans and credit systems. We need to know what we have gained and what lessons we have learnt. For example, the Strawberry Project in the State has put more burden on the strawberry farmers. There are those who have abandoned strawberry farming and shifted to other forms of farming. Apart from labour cost, every farming season farmers have to buy strawberry seeds, (this adds to the cost of strawberry), since they cannot replant the old seeds. Traditionally for other indigenous crops, farmers keep their own seeds and replant them, but not with strawberries. This is what I learnt from an interaction with some strawberry farmers at Sohliya. The question is, how much money has been spent on the strawberry project. Who gains more from this project? A study on this project or similar projects and the income distribution will highlight issues and throw light on grassroots developmental experiences.
Development initiatives need to have strong grassroots foundations, accommodating localised attributes and sensitivity to the local psyche and mentality. The same goes for tourism planning. We can’t rely on outside fly- by- night think-tanks to make a policy, project, blueprint on something they cannot fully grasp, measure or understand. They need to accommodate the local natural and socio-cultural environment. People themselves are the drivers and catalysts of development. Once we lay down for them an enabling environment to experiment and dialogue, they will flourish. Armchair planning exercises and table-based policy drafting and execution have no practical uses. Development specialists have asserted this fact, on theory and praxis of development. Development is a process that requires auditing, monitoring and inspection. The political display of ribbon cutting, foundation stone erection, tree sapling planting, once in a blue moon are banal. Site visits are not preconditions for development. Further, planning and policy making should be in sync with reality and must be data driven. Development is a constitutional, administrative obligation and a God given right to every citizen.
Coming to the FASCOM agitation, despite earning a paltry amount of monthly salary here we have teachers (adhoc/private) who are articulate and rely on fact-based arguments, adopting a decent and civil approach but have been forced to come to the streets and express their plight. The education sector mess has been created by our elected leaders who earned hundred times more than the teachers who mould and motivate our children and future generation. To realise our present financial burden and state fiscal policy, let’s take only one crude example. If I’m not mistaken adhoc teachers earn a fixed amount of Rs 12,000 per month. Juxtapose this amount spent on a government vehicle for petrol/diesel per month. Are these government vehicles utilised only for government duty? If we can get the comparative value, we will know where we stand.
The teachers have even opened their hearts and minds for a sane, intelligent and civil interaction (meeting) with the authorities. They are willing to negotiate on the salary. They know and understand the financial situation. They deserve an increment looking at the rate of inflation. At the time of writing this article it seems that the Government chose to lie low and not take the teachers’ problem as a top priority. Interestingly, in the NPP manifesto, education is a top priority. If a Wharton educated CM cannot address or tackle this education management mess but is quick to sign a memorandum to solve a complicated border issue, definitely people must question and are questioning this government on its lapses, Is it insensitivity or apathy? If that is not the case, then who runs the Government? The whole world acknowledges that education and health are the key sectors for long-term social and economic development. We can’t achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs) without addressing the education infrastructure and quality. There are no quick-fixes to development and sustainable revenue generation.
Any authority that despises or neglects education has no intention for good governance or the existence of a civil society. Good governance is a form and character of good education. Teachers/intellectuals joining politics and participating in political debates enhances good governance. This Government has failed miserably in governance on all fronts.