Meghalaya elections 2023: Why do we want change?

By Patricia Mukhim

As elections approach, it is normal for sitting MLAs and beneficiaries of largesse from the present government to desire its continuance. The former don’t want to give up[ their perks; the latter don’t want to lose business opportunities and have to contend with a new government and a new set of ministers. Some individuals and groups have had more than their share of contract work. The wealth ranking of hangers on has risen substantially in the last five years and they want that free run to continue. These groups have a vested interest in wanting the NPP-UDP-BJP-PDF combine to return. For now these three parties particularly the UDP are trying to throw mud in our eyes by attacking their senior partner in the MDA Government, the NPP. The UDP has not spoken a word against the BJP, knowing fully well that 2024 will see the return of Modi and the BJP and the continued subservience of Meghalaya to whoever rules Delhi. So for now the UDP sees the BJP as a potential partner and would not mind sharing power with the NPP yet again should that Party get over 15 seats.

Political parties therefore are shrewd manipulators. All the pious mumbo-jumbo about serving the people is so much of trash! All they want is power. Power to continue their wealth creation projects; power to build bigger mansions; power to send their kids to the US/UK and all the best destinations to study. Without power all those aspirations might turn to futile wishes except for some in the NPP who have really been on a property buying spree in Shillong city and can well capitalize on those properties. If this same group returns we can imagine just how much lower Meghalaya will sink. At present 32.7 % of our people live below the poverty line. When Meghalaya was born we were better off. There were not so many landless, poverty-stricken folk. It has taken 50 years of self-serving politics to bring us where we are today.

Manifestos: Why the delay?  

A political party is expected to have some cherished principles and some goalposts for the voters. What are the goalposts for the UDP? The NPP? We know the intentions of the TMC from its 64 page manifesto. The TMC has promised freebies but has not indicated where the resources to meet the expenditures will come from. Of course women need social and economic safety nets but they are willing to work for it so let the TMC not turn our people into beggars looking for a free ride. It’s not a good idea at all! On the contrary the TMC should get an economist with no strings attached to study the economy of Meghalaya and propose some concrete solutions. No political party can do patchwork. Things have to be very clear. We need to know where the problem lies and find the means and the methods to address those pain points. Questions such as (1) Why is Meghalaya resource rich but money poor, need straight answers. (2) How has Meghalaya used its land, forest, minerals, water and agricultural resources? (3) Who benefitted from all these resources? (4) Who owns the bulk of the land in Meghalaya today? Do we have transparent records? If someone has bought property at the speed of sound don’t we have the right to know how that person came into so much money? What business is the person doing? What are the person’s known sources of income? A society that keeps the above information a closely guided secret is actually nurturing the proverbial “Thlen” for why should only a few become rich at the cost of the many?

A tribal society is not supposed to nurture such disparate inequalities as we see today. Yet any government we elect is unwilling to do a cadastral survey even today. I am waiting to see which political party will be bold enough to commit to a cadastral survey. I know the BJP, UDP, NPP, Congress will not, for obvious reasons. Too many of their leaders own too much property. The TMC does not have cadastral survey in its agenda. The other day I heard the VPP President speaking and he mentioned cadastral survey or something to that effect.

Come elections and the pressure groups seem to go underground. After the elections we will again hear them asserting that they are the custodians of tribal rights. Why don’t these groups speak up at the stark inequalities in this same society. Do these groups believe that we can’t see through their shenanigans? Are they not as avaricious as politicians? Aren’t their ambitions also about amassing power and influence? Otherwise by now these groups should have organized public meetings where sitting MLAs would be held accountable and the new ones being asked what they will do differently.

Also why the delay in circulating the manifestos? Are political parties going to pick issues from the ground and then craft out a manifesto that reflects people’s aspirations?

Does money win elections?

Let’s not be naïve and discount the role played by the big moneybags in elections. These moneybags study the electoral prospects of each candidate and bet on the most probable winning horse. Its usually one who has been in power; one they have done deals with; one whose moods and responses they can predict and whose weaknesses they have a handle on. Every such ‘winnable’ candidate has some businessman working behind the scenes to ensure he/she gets elected. Moneybags will not bet on a new face; a face that desires to change the system because business people don’t want a system change. They love predictability and they prefer to do business with those that are not capricious.  Believe me, in Meghalaya business has always dictated who wins and who loses.

Fragmented society: Fragmented votes:

Meghalaya society is not homogenous by any yardstick. There is the affluent class that breathes a different air and we can see this from the opulent destination weddings that are aired on social media. Even Hollywood weddings are not as ostentatious. In fact, in the west guest list includes just a couple of hundred. Here we have thousands of guests. Somewhere beyond the hills where the weddings are held are little hamlets where people are still unsure of two square meals. But what we don’t see doesn’t hurt us. So people think it’s better to remain distant and unconcerned about the poverty that is slowly engulfing over 50% of our people and for which no one is taking responsibility. Especially not the political parties.

We don’t vote as a society. We vote to suit our personal agenda. We also don’t vote for political parties; we vote for the individual we believe is best able to feel our pain (this in case of the poor, neglected voters whose voices are stifled). The affluent will vote for the person who they believe will continue to feed from their hand and who they can capitalize from.

Incidentally, even government employees (and there are quite a few) who have benefitted from the benevolence of this government by way of giving them a free run of the land and not subjecting them to strict accountability. They include in the main the Block Development Officers (BDOs) whose wealth ranking has risen up in the last five years. And because tribal officers don’t compulsorily have to submit the list of their assets/properties on joining office and how much they and their spouses own today, Meghalaya has become the uneven playing field of the opportunists. To be a journalist is to suffer from information overload about which one can do so little. Alas! All we can do is write and hope that one day justice prevails.

The Meghalaya High Court has pointed out so blatantly how government officials have been complicit in the illegal mining and transportation of coal and in facilitating the setting up of coke factories. Yet no one can take action against these government employees who have amassed wealth beyond their known sources of income. Will the next government have the muscle and the will to deal with such rapacious types? Let’s see who forms the Government on March 3. Will money be the Waterloo of Meghalaya yet again? Time will tell whether the poverty stricken will vote for change. If they vote back a government that deprives them of their rights, then they will have to themselves to blame.

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