By Toki Blah
Known and periodic events in life are often anticipated with joyous expectations. Birthdays, religious festivals and the New Year are always awaited with enthusiasm and eagerness. They are always associated with change for the better and thus welcomed. In 2023 another periodic event awaits the people of Meghalaya. As a people we will be expected to honour our pledge towards the sanctity of the secret ballot; a tenet of parliamentary democracy; where we as a people shall be expected to once again elect political representatives, on whom the governance of Meghalaya for the next 5 years shall depend. Question is, with what frame of mind are the people of Meghalaya anticipating this momentous event? It definitely will be an event associated with expected change. The question is what sort of Change are we preparing ourselves for? For better or for worse?
We have less than 4 months to go and let’s admit it, there is hardly any undercurrent of joyous public anticipation over the forthcoming 2023 Assembly elections. Instead there is trepidation, social alarm and anxiety for the future. This is hardly what the political set-up wants to hear, but it’s the truth. Oh yes there are those paid for public meetings, paid for drunken parties, paid for emotional and sensational public dances of meaningless joy publicized on social media, but that’s it. Out there in the real world of a thinking public, cynicism, scepticism and downright disdain prevails over the preparation, expected conduct and expected outcome of the 2023 elections! And pray why not? The manner in which the political system has been preparing for 2023 is simply alienating the ordinary man from the process. Till date it’s simply a parade and display of party hopping with probable losers trumpeting their dreams of forming the next government on their own. Ordinary people are totally indifferent and prefer to distance themselves from whatever electoral gimmicks are going on. If this is the attitude of the electorate of Meghalaya, then by what yardstick or figment of the imagination can we call the 2023 elections as a democratic exercise Of, By and For the People? So what do we call the forthcoming 2023 elections? A fraud? A farce? A swindle, perpetuated by an opportunistic political system on a hapless, poverty driven and illiterate citizenry?
Such questions, 50 years after statehood and 75 years after Independence, arise because politics, the electoral process and the type of governance that the political system has imposed on society, is at total variance with the expectations of the electorate. Today, a disillusioned Meghalaya has no qualms of associating elections with a buyers and sellers market. People want good, efficient political leaders. The political system of Meghalaya has other ideas and has instead consistently offered the dregs of society to its electorate! The public want and expect delivery of efficient, viable and good governance from competent elected leaders. The political system on the other hand simply wants one thing – Power, through moneyed winnable candidates to purchase votes and where governance is definitely nowhere on the delivery agenda. The real needs of the common man are distorted by a system that has no concept of governance but concentrates only on how to win. Absolutely no connectivity between the two. Only persons with money have been encouraged to contest elections. The outcome has generally been elected political leaders with no clue what to do next and with no intention or capacity to govern. In Meghalaya, politicians, political managers and our political parties have equated the ability to buy votes with the ability to govern and rule. The dictionary has simply no words defining such idiocy!
Somehow Idiocy and foolishness one can understand and overlook. But how does one condone hypocrisy from those who profess to work for the welfare and wellbeing of the public? This statement is made because politicians and political parties are often smug and sanctimonious in stating that “People get the leaders they deserve”! Fair enough if there are options, choices and alternatives for the electorate to choose from. When everyone plays on an even playing field! When illiterate aspirants, ignorant political contenders form the majority of candidates, simply because they happen to be rich enough to purchase votes , then where is the level playing field? Those who wilfully force such garbage on an unsuspecting electorate have no right to accuse the voter of incompetence. This is outright political hypocrisy! When winnability through purchase of votes is given preference over the ability to lead and govern; when winning an election is all that matters, why then do all of us react with shock and surprise when governance plunges into depths of ignominy?
So what reason is there to believe that 2023 this time will be anything different? From all indications available, any hope for a change for the better is a vain hope as any change will definitely be a change for the worst. So am I a pessimist? Of course I am! In the 2018-2022 sessions of the Assembly, hardly 8 (only 5%) out of the 60 MLAs ever spoke or took part in debates of the house. A glib-tongued Chief Minister all too often stood up to speak on behalf of Ministers who when they were forced to open their mouths, were more prone to putting their foot in their mouths than anything else. A majority of members preferred to stay mum, silent because they really had nothing to contribute. So in a system that governs by rule of the majority, if the majority of the elected representatives are dumb in articulating their thoughts (that is if they have any) what happens to the state and its people ?(Questioning the capability of our elected representatives will hopefully not attract a privilege notice). It has become clearer by the day that power apparently means access to Government funds for the next five years and nothing else. Enough reason to give one the Pre Election shivers!
Fact is everyone is fed up with the manner we go about choosing and electing our political representatives. Irony of ironies is that even those who won through money power are the first, once elections are over, to endorse this public sentiment. It’s however meaningless to be sanctimonious and self righteous about it by simply calling upon the poor not to take free money. For the poor, it has nothing to do with morality but everything to do with putting rise on the table. As long as poverty exists, and it seems that this is a deliberate political strategy, money will always be a game changer. Perhaps the best way would be for political parties to openly and officially declare their opposition to ‘money for votes’ practice or will this be expecting too much? On record all of them are sincerity itself for such a change but everyone ends up busy in the exercise of the pot calling the kettle black. An insult to the intelligence of the ordinary voter! That’s what is so disgusting about our political system
If our political parties and political managers could come up with self regulatory measures to curb use of money during elections, the people of Meghalaya would have won half the battle against corruption in public life. If the political system could develop the guts and courage to take this simple step, we would start getting real leaders who would not hesitate to lead from the front. I mean if a peon whose job is simply to carry files, is put through a rigorous interview before appointment why should the person who decides and signs on those files that determine the fate of the state, be not pre grilled for his suitability for the job? Think about it. It would be the first step towards viable reforms in the electoral process. It would rescue Meghalaya politics from the death grip of scalawags who enter politics to make money rather than to give service. It’s the vision of our state and its people! Unfortunately, it’s a vision totally at odds with that of our elected leaders. Is this the reason why I have this gut sinking feeling that politicians still consider Good Governance as something the cat brought in? The reason why there is no political leader left who cares for justice? Why does the suspicion linger that candidates for the 2023 elections will continue to see their electorate as purchasable commodities rather than ordinary common citizens whose real need is simply Good Governance! Why do I have this sinking feeling that the next 5 years post 2023 will not be a period of joy but instead most likely be an era full of continued rip-offs, scams and swindling of public money?
I have a vision it will be a government composed by men of straw, for crooks, run by delinquents. For the people there will be nothing but frustration, annoyance and despondency. In conclusion I would be most pleasantly surprised if there should be any politician or political party who will disagree with me on this through a rejoinder.