Two questions on Meghalaya before 2023

By Toki Blah

Meghalaya has turned fifty this year and we are celebrating the state’s Golden anniversary and a significant milestone. Meghalaya was first conceived as a protest against the imposition of Assamese on tribal minorities such as the Khasis, Jaintias and Garo people of the erstwhile districts of Assam namely Khasi and Jaintia Hills District and the Garo Hills District. The protest swelled to a demand for a state of our own; the, ‘No Hill State, No Rest’ slogan was coined. It united the three tribes mentioned above in their search for a political vehicle to convey them to the future. This agitation of the Hill people finally culminated in the birth of Meghalaya on 21 January 1972. Today 50 years since statehood, we the people of Meghalaya are supposed to celebrate the state’s golden Anniversary. Yet if one is to go by the daily news reports; if media coverage of events that have happened during the last 6 months is to be believed; if the rising crescendo of public dissatisfaction, anger and grievance is any indicator of our feelings, then one is forced to believe that there is very little to be cheerful or to celebrate about. All around us we see the failure and collapse of governance; the increasing irrelevance of institutions that are supposed to govern us; the total disappearance of Rule of Law; the rapid rise and spread of poverty ; the socio –economic difference between the Urban and the Rural sectors; unheard of inflation that has made our per capita meaningless and redundant; the disintegration of infrastructure be it our roads, bridges, urban waste management, education or public morale; the overwhelming grip of corruption and sleaze over those whom we elected to govern us. To top it all; to add salt to the injuries of the common man, we find a Political system, its Politicians and Political Parties absolutely blind; indifferent; uncaring and completely insensitive to the sufferings of the public.
In the midst of all this public anguish and misery our politicians can see no further than their win or loss in 2023! Politics has completely disassociated itself from the plight of the common man. So is this the profile of the Hill State we fought for 50 years ago? Corollary to this and the first question to be asked therefore is – ‘Is statehood and the creation of Meghalaya a flawed concept?
I intend no cynicism or sarcasm in the question raised above. It is a question of a stake-holdership in the state of affairs relating to a concept, an idea, a passion that our ancestors invested in and for which we are supposed to reap the benefits of. When this generation sees that passion and idea wither and go waste, it is compelled to ask what and where we went wrong. One expects answers to that question. So the first query naturally will be – who is supposed to uphold the concept of our own democratic, parliamentary, dependent Hill State? The answer is simple but tragic! It is me or should I say all of us individually; our families; our clans; our communities; the social and faith based institutions that we depend on and the education system and educational institutions we were weaned on. As stakeholders to this new political entity called a Hill State as a people we did nothing to understand its basic needs and requirements; we failed to nourish and strengthen it with the basic nutrients and vitamins so crucial for its administrative maturity. We all fell short of understanding the sustainability of statehood which called for universal appreciation of the tenets of parliamentary democracy ; appreciation of the democratic principles of BY, FOR and OF the people; appreciation of the value of the Rule of Law. Again, all of us, failed to uphold the basic values that contribute to a democratic way of life. Fact is we failed Meghalaya.
In the last 50 years, the citizens of Meghalaya who are its prime stakeholders have slowly withdrawn their interests in the governance of the state. Slowly but surely we comforted ourselves by outsourcing every 5 years, Meghalaya’s mandate as a state, to contractors who came in not to govern but to exploit. We never bothered to check whether these contractors delivered or not. Slowly the state has been leased to people, parties and individuals who were totally indifferent and worse, unprepared to promote its welfare; the wellbeing of its people; its development and growth. They were there and still are, for their own vested interests and profit. Sadly we the people have not realized this fact; not realized that Meghalaya belongs to us; that we ourselves need to manage it with love and understanding. We are still preparing ito outsource the governance of Meghalaya in 2023 for another 5 year lease. It is not that Meghalaya has failed us. Truth is we have failed to uphold and protect the idea of a Hill State; we have miserably failed in staking ownership over what is ours!
The second question crying for an answer is – taking into consideration all what has been pointed out above, does Meghalaya still have a future? Can we still detect some optimism in the concept of Meghalaya? Despite the obvious flaws of a failed state pointed out above I think that there is still hope in redeeming our Hill State. We accept Meghalaya as the vehicle to carry and drive our dreams and our future. There is nothing wrong with the chassis or body of the vehicle. It’s as good or as bad as other vehicles elsewhere. Trouble lies with the nature, expertise, qualification, ability and most importantly the character, morals and ethics of the driver or drivers we elect to drive the vehicle. The problem is that we tend to choose individuals with no knowledge or skills of the task they are supposed to perform. Worse, they come without morals but with the mentality of a bania (trader).
Within the context of Meghalaya’s governance we need to know where our politicians intend to take us; do they possess the vision and foresight for what is expected of them; do they share the same interests and outlook as the electorate that elects them; is the welfare of Meghalaya their priority or are they applying for a seat in the Assembly and the cabinet just to loot the state and further their own interests? We see it happening, especially in this MDA government and if we fail to realize the stakes involved, the signs of time point that the next Government in 2023 will be ten times worse that this one. Meghalaya and its people will be driven deeper into poverty; further into a dark bottomless abyss of hopelessness. Is that what we want? Definitely not! And if there are other stakeholders who are still in the dark, is it not the duty of others, the so called powerful Pressure groups (ki sengbhalang), the Dorbars, the Church, agitating teachers, the intelligentsia of the state, to take up the onus to enlighten our electorate of the dangers that arise from MLAs who seek to nullify the right to vote with money? It is a cancer that will spell doom for all of us. It needs to be nipped in the bud. The crucial question is how?
The most damaging aspect of Meghalaya is that it was created on the emotion of a Hill State of our own without ever thinking how to sustain and govern it. The sad fact is that 50 years down the line we are still on that emotional high without knowing where this Hill State is expected to take us. At this point what we really need is a vision for the state; a roadmap to take us down the future; a premeditated strategy on how to make such a vision work. In a parliamentary form of democracy where leaders seek election through the ballot box, parties can’t come simply with the plea of “please help us win” but with a manifesto that outlines their policy for the development of the state and its people. The electorate on the other hand should be prepared with questions on how the candidate and his party propose to govern and administer the state for the next five years. This calls for parties and candidates that does their homework before they face the electorate. It is the only way to eliminate moneyed, arrogant but ignorant candidates who come with that sneering conviction that the rights of the common man can be bought with a bundle of notes. It’s what has been happening to us. Time to stop this evil!
For this Meghalaya needs a vision statement from politicians as to where we see ourselves 10, 20, 40, 50 years down the line. Political parties and their candidates must necessarily come prepared with such a vision document on how they intend to govern the state and its people. The pertinent issues such a document must address are Education, Healthcare, Communication (to include road networks, bridges and transport systems), strategy on employment that includes viable options for investment, strategy on marketing the products of Meghalaya especially its farming and allied activities, poverty reduction strategies, plans to reduce landlessness, strategies on waste management, strategies on environmental issues and concepts on water management.
Politicians must have time frames and roadmaps for the future. Prepare your manifestos then face the public. We have had enough of demagoguery where politicians exploit us with meaningless talks on popular prejudices and make false claims and promises simply to gain power. Meghalaya needs solid concrete concepts on leadership and governance. Let’s do away with hypocrites who approach us with money simply to murder our children and their future.

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