The Maharashtra imbroglio: A reminder of Meghalaya’s sordid political past

By Patricia Mukhim

“Chanakya or Kautilya as we all know was the Prime Minister of King Chandragupta Maurya. But he is better known for his statecraft and diplomacy. Chanakya said every single aspect of
human life is subject to the jurisdiction of the state and he laid down an organisational set-up for that.”

In Meghalaya we have been used to musical chairs since the state was formed. We have had governments being formed by lucky dip and political chicanery of the highest order. Hence what is unfolding in Maharashtra and Guwahati are old hat for us. Stability came in for a short term during Salseng Marak’s tenure but the game of musical chairs continued when (late) JD Rymbai was CM and later DD Lapang. Mukul Sangma brought in political stability since 2010. Today the MDA Government is on a steady keel and that is largely due to the fact that it is part of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) with Himanta Biswa Sarma keeping a close eye on the Meghalaya affairs. Otherwise, why would even some Congress bigwigs make a stop at Guwahati to meet HBS? So too other head honchos of the regional parties!
Let’s not forget that HBS is nothing short of being Prime Minister of North East India. We may all think that different states are ruled by their respective Chief Ministers but other than the Manipur CM, all the others CMs are remote-controlled by HBS. Look at the manner in which the border pact was signed between Meghalaya and Assam. We have to grant it to HBS for managing statecraft in the way that Chanakya had outlined.
Chanakya or Kautilya as we all know was the Prime Minister of King Chandragupta Maurya. But he is better known for his statecraft and diplomacy. Chanakya said every single aspect of human life is subject to the jurisdiction of the state and he laid down an organisational set-up for that. Even at that time Chanakya made a clear-cut division of ethics and politics and opined that politics devoid of ethics is dangerous and could bring down the prosperity and security of the entire kingdom.
It is intuitive that even at that point in time Chanakya had stated that, “People In Power Must Be Accessible.” We can see that Uddhav Thackeray failed to do this and granted more access to the allies than to his own Shiv Sainik MLAs. At least that is what Eknath Shinde and his group claim. Running a coalition government is fraught and Uddhav must have taken for granted that since he is the natural heir of Balasaheb Thackeray, the Shiv Sainiks would never desert him come what may. He was so wrong.
Chanakya’s exhortation, “When in the court, the king shall never cause his petitioners to wait at the door, for when a king makes himself inaccessible to his people and entrusts his work to his immediate officers, he may be sure to engender confusion in business and to cause thereby public disaffection, and himself prey to his enemies.” If only Uddhav Thackeray had read the Arthasastra and put those words of wisdom into practice he would not have had to eat humble pie today.
The Arthasastra outlines a system of civil, criminal, and mercantile law. Civil and criminal law were clearly codified such as a procedure for interrogation, torture, and trial, the rights of the accused, what constitutes permissible evidence, a procedure for autopsy in case of death in suspicious circumstances, what constitutes defamation and procedure for claiming damages, valid and invalid contracts (Kautilya, Book 4, Ch. 7 & 8). It’s a different matter that the rulers of today, especially those that claim to be the avant-garde of Hindutva, only cherry-pick what they like and discard the rest of what the Arthasastra prescribes. If India’s rulers had paid attention to Kautilya, we would not have witnessed corruption at the scale at which we have seen it  happening in the past few decades in this country and in our own state today. Historians state that one reason why the Mughals could conquer Hindustan was because the later Hindu rulers had abandoned the principles laid down by Chanakya, which is wont to happen. The system of division of labour (Varnas) degenerated into the caste system which relegated the Sudras to a sub-human rank and therefore antagonised them. Chanakya has warned that when there is internal strife a kingdom is in danger of being conquered by outsiders. Note that this is exactly what has happened in Maharashtra.
Coming back to our own backyards, some people have already started scenario building for 2023 and thereby thrown cold water on the aspiration of those that want to bring change. These astute scenario builders claim that Conrad Sangma’s NPP will get 40 or more seats in 2023 and the person who will make that happen is Himanta Biswa Sarma (HBS) because he will never want to see Mukul Sangma his beta-noire anywhere near the CM’s chair. They point to the basic behavioural trends that separate the Khasi-Jaintia from the Garos. Their contention is that Meghalaya has 12 ministers of whom only two (and siblings at that) are from Garo Hills. The rest 10 ministers are from the Khasi-Jaintia Hills but the Garo people have never made an issue of this under-representation. As a wit said earlier today, “The Garos prefer to have a King from among them than 10 generals. This is perhaps the basic difference between the Mon Khmer people and the Tibeto-Burmans. The latter are happy with quality; the former with quantity.
While one must encourage those who seek to bring change in the electoral behaviour in 2023 sometimes realism has to kick in. Those of us sitting in Shillong think the electorate is aware of the sleaze besetting the MDA government but we are wrong because Meghalaya does not fit into the western concept of democracy where raising voices, asking questions and demanding transparency are part of the process. We are a community that’s not used to questioning authority. For several decades we have outsourced the questioning part to key pressure groups (whose names I need not mention). These pressure groups seem to believe that other than the Inner Line Permit they don’t need to harp on any other thing because ILP touches an emotional chord even as it sends this already insular society into another cocoon. In any case we have all been brought up to believe that we should not question our parents or any authority figure. So, we have imbibed this as part of our second nature.
Some of us believe there’s nothing wrong if our own people become rich; its better than a “dkhar” (outsider) making away with our money. If a tribal makes money that will circulate within the state. There is nothing democratic about life in Meghalaya other than voting. We don’t see public protests on any issue other than the usual suspects. We didn’t even see public protests by political parties including the newly formed ones on the accursed “Dome.” They are quiet as mice; all waiting for 2023 to launch themselves as if they are sure to take the trophy home. Mamata Banerjee made a noise about the luxury flight that landed at Guwahati at a time when Assam is battling floods. The TMC in Meghalaya is uncannily quiet other than giving a few bytes to the media on every issue and only when they are prodded. We have heard nothing from VoPP; their plea being that they are awaiting recognition from the Election Commission of India. Now a political party seeking recognition has to prove its strength by making a noise. There is no rule that debars a new political outfit awaiting recognition from airing their views and having public meetings on issues affecting the State and people. Hence Conrad Sangma and his Deputy the spin-master with his not so funny one liners, are sailing on very calm seas. They see no threat at all. That’s because “We the People of Meghalaya” don’t want to create any turmoil on that sea.
Martin Luther King (Junior) writing from Birmingham jail said, “We will have to repent not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of bad people but for the appalling silence of good people.” However, we can perhaps take courage from what King said at a later date, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” We hope and pray that the arc bends sooner than later. Otherwise, as Henrik Ibsen says, “Striving for democracy is bone wearying, agonizing, frustrating, cruel, bloody and often deadly work. You should never have your best trousers on when you go out to fight for freedom and truth.”
“While one must encourage those who seek to bring change in the electoral behaviour in 2023 sometimes realism has to kick in. Those of us sitting in Shillong think the electorate is aware of the sleaze besetting the MDA government but we are wrong because Meghalaya does not fit into the western concept of democracy where raising voices, asking questions and demanding transparency are part of the process.”

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