By Benjamin Lyngdoh
“According to the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya (dated January 25, 2022), the total electorate is around 21 lakhs (an increase of 54,712 in a year) with more female voters compared to males. This is the measure of Meghalaya’s electoral democracy. The power to change rests in the finger of these 21 lakh voters.”
The dance of democracy is back. The political parties of Meghalaya are busy making plans and strategies to win votes. As February/March, 2023 is still some distance away, the strategy for now is focussed upon breaking other parties and pulling more followers. It is about having supporters and office bearers of other parties to shift camp. Going by recent trends, NPP, UDP and TMC are at the forefront of this. Gradually, the strategic focus will be on the voters at the ground. Alas, they will look at the ground (literally). For commoners like us, it resonates with ‘better late than never’ and ‘something is better than nothing’. Time shall unfold all shenanigans.
Election is democratic. It is so, as the voters do see themselves as agents of change. Every election from that to the State Legislature, Lok Sabha or District Councils, sees people coming together and complaining of the lack of progress; then follow discourses on the possible intervention measures and debates on what is right and wrong. There is a sense of optimism that all is not doom and gloom and that something good can come out of elections. As a result, the voters tend to look forward to the day of polling and counting.
If we assess such events it can be fairly argued that at every MLA election the voters at large want to experience change in political leadership and governance. It is a natural human instinct to always seek for the better and effective workable ways of doings things. Today, elections have become even more democratic with the presence of the NOTA option. In the past, there was no space for the disillusioned to express their feelings. This used to be the reason for many not voting. NOTA has changed all that. The presence of this option has provided a space to all voters to come forward and vote. According to the Office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Meghalaya (dated January 25, 2022), the total electorate is around 21 lakhs (an increase of 54,712 in a year) with more female voters compared to males. This is the measure of Meghalaya’s electoral democracy. The power to change rests in the finger of these 21 lakh voters.
But, the candidates are feudal. In medieval Europe, feudalism basically refers to a social system whereby commoners are allowed to stay in the property of a feudal lord in return for taxes in cash or kind and if required also fight militarily for their master. The movie Robin Hood is a good example. Feudalism is a measure of wealth, power, arrogance, control, exploitation, etc of the majority by a few. In Meghalaya, many candidates have wealth as a means to fool and manipulate the voters. Most of the candidates are feudal in their mindsets and their wealth ranking. The constituency is their property and the voters their subjects. They have money power and as a result they hold all the bargaining chips. For example, a politician has done nothing for the betterment of the constituents in 5 years; no roads, no interventions for the poor, no interventions for the youth, etc, but yet still, he/she talks boastfully and behaves as if winning is a surety in 2023. This is because these feudal lords know that even if election is inherently a democratic process, their money power is enough to change the conviction of the voters. Feudalism in politics has come to a stage where citizens with good intentions and wonderful ideas have no chance of winning or even contesting an election. The feudal lords can go to the extent of bribing prospective candidates to not contest the elections and to step aside. They also go to the extent of making dummy candidates contest just to break-up the votes of a constituency to their advantage. Meghalaya’s poor development is because of these feudalistic candidates.
In an interaction with senior citizens, an attempt was made to find out as to when money started to play a role in Meghalaya politics? Most of them opined that it was in the late 1980s. Of course, that time the quantum of money was less. But the point is that in the context of money, politics and feudal candidates; sadly, Meghalaya has come a long way. It is a disappointment. It is high time that the voters realize that they cannot continue to remain as pawns in the hands of the feudal lords. If the trend is not reversed now, one shudders to think of the future outcomes.
The starting point of the solution is the voter as an individual. It would be wrong to think that the voters are not aware of the games the feudal lords play during elections. We are all aware, but somehow when lured by the colour of money, there is a tendency to give up on strong convictions and just accept trinkets and superficial benefits that last a few days only. It is time to note that the utensils, blankets, etc the feudal lords give will have no meaning if one does not have the ability to buy rice, vegetables, bed, etc. The solution starts with the individual! It is time to literally wake up.
Many writers have written on the role of the church, so it is skipped in this column. However, there is one approach that can do wonders. It involves school children who are under 18 years of age. They cannot vote, but, they have a voice and a very strong agency in their homes. The teachers can inform the young minds about the ills of feudalism in politics and as such encourage the students to make their parents aware about it. It is said that sometimes a child is the best teacher of men. This is exactly the case. Just think about it, it is feasible. Even more so, as in the villages many of the children are first generation learners. Their parents had never gone to school. As a result, the children have a lot of critical information and agency in suggesting and telling the parents what is to be done and what is right and wrong. It is observed that in many instances the children tell their mothers on which type of pencil, rubber, copy books, etc are to be bought. This is because they know better. If it works in education, it can work in politics too.
In the end, it is like the struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic. Herd immunity was seen as the most effective means to subdue the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Although it is generally agreed that 70% immunity is required to achieve herd status. Technically speaking, 51% is enough as then the re-infection rate will significantly start declining. In the same way, if 51% of the voters challenge the narrative of feudal candidates, it would be enough to initiate change. The feudal lords will start losing on their money-based bargaining power. In the elections that follow, this percentage of change agents may well increase to 55% and so forth. A gradual change is a lasting one. But, are we as voters ready to rise up to the challenge? Are we willing to start in 2023?
“In medieval Europe, feudalism basically refers to a social system whereby commoners are allowed to stay in the property of a feudal lord in return for taxes in cash or kind and if required also fight militarily for their master. The movie Robin Hood is a good example. Feudalism is a measure of wealth, power, arrogance, control, exploitation, etc of the majority by a few.”
(The writer teaches at NEHU; Email – [email protected])