It’s Conrad Sangma’s moment to redeem promises

By Manas Chaudhuri

It is merely twenty one days since Conrad Sangma began his second tryst with Meghalaya as its chief minister. Already there is one unmistakable portent that should distinguish him from his first essay—he appears to be more confident and is firmly in the driver’s seat navigating the course of MDA 2.0. After an unprecedented feisty election that raised loads of dust and fury, Sangma has not made a single false move. Not so far. Forging alliance with BJP quite against the run of play, he was quick off the block for ministry formation. That he could rope in HSPDP and the two Independent MLAs promptly as the results were being declared, bears the hallmark of his astuteness. By these timely strokes he took the wind out the rivals’ sails. Surely, after blowing hot and cold UDP had no choice but to follow suit in tamely joining the coalition.
Few can miss the other differences this time. The NPP has claimed a larger share of ministerial berths unlike last time when Conrad and his elder sibling James Sangma were the only two Garo ministers. He let the coalition partners have their slice of the cake maybe to ensure stability. This time round, eight NPP ministers in a cabinet of 12 are calling the shots. The lone BJP minister and two from UDP and solitary one from HSPDP will hardly be able to take on the NPP in the cabinet. They will have to be content playing second fiddle. Moreover, Conrad made sure that the weighty portfolios are retained by NPP. Key portfolios like Home, Finance, PWD, PHE, Urban, Power, Health, Mining & Geology, Law, Supply etc., are with the NPP. And there lies an obvious message: NPP will not loosen its grip over MDA 2.0. For, it is a case of ‘the winner takes it all!’ To be candid, he has ticked in all the right boxes so far.
While it is too early in the day, the chief minister’s real challenge will be how he lifts himself from a forgettable first term, dogged as it was by serious allegations of corruption and marred by devastating Covid pandemic. While he was seen as rather tentative and happy to placate one and all, so much so that the critics harboured the impression that he was soft on the law and order front bears repetition. The first five years of Conrad were turbulent, if also unconvincing in some ways. Many of the promised schemes came unstuck, even as unseemly allegations of corruption kept tumbling out. Yet, he managed to defy a huge burden of anti-incumbency and returned to power with added strength under his elbow. Now, it is time for him to raise the bar for himself and galvanise his cabinet and bureaucrats to deliver. As a proactive leader of the pack, Conrad will have to give a big thrust to accelerate infrastructure development and help remove the haunting feeling of despondency among common citizens that Meghalaya has not been able to ensure ease of living. His first budget this year bears the stamp of his new found zest for making a difference.
Promises unredeemed
Any which way we look today, the lofty promise of the architects of the state of making Meghalaya “A patch of beauty and a shining outpost of India” remains unredeemed. Former chief minister B.B.Lyngdoh had envisioned to make Meghalaya, a “mini Japan” based on a policy of laissez faire. That was utopian and far distanced from reality. In the perspective of a man in the street, during the past fifty years life has never ceased to be difficult. Take for instance, water, power, health care facilities, quality education, good road conditions, dependable transport system, not to forget good governance and stimulating money supply in the market, the state always had a yawning gap between demand and supply. The fact that in the capital town itself the water supply system has left much to be desired is a case in point. In spite of having a huge edifice called PHE department, complemented by the Shillong Municipal Board, availability of water on a regular basis still remains a sore point for a large segment of citizens. The white elephant called Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme, has guzzled up hundreds of crores of rupees but functioned only in fits and starts ending up under-delivering. The rich and the powerful have either managed water connections or are pumping water from underground. It is the less fortunate who tend to be missing out on potable water connection. Even the JJM has abysmally failed to remedy it. The sight of women carrying a headload of water from streams down the gorge in the village Mylliem, located only 13 kms from Shillong, is too stark to miss.
The fact that power outage has become an inescapable reality is a pointer to the fact that neither our planning for augmenting power generation nor the equipment procured measure up to the requirement of building up a robust power supply system. In the health sector, the state is fortunate that there are private hospitals that are doing the government’s job. The inadequacy of the string of CHCs and PHCs built over the decades is palpable. The civil hospitals in Shillong, Tura, Jowai etc., are able to provide service only up to a point. These health centres have been perennially suffering from lack of equipment or manpower or both. The gap is simply huge. It should not please anybody to note that Meghalaya is perhaps the only state in the country without a medical college. Even the sophisticated infrastructure created during Covid times is simply non-functional and perhaps a waste. And what about our poor road conditions? The PWD seems to defy all public outcry for better roads. If roads are meant to be the best advertisement about the state of the state, Meghalaya’s image is taking a beating big time. The litany of public woes is certainly not exhaustive. Why after fifty years are we unable to deliver on each of these fronts is a critical question that few have cared to raise.
No political instability
For now, Conrad Sangma is running a stable government. There is no perceived threat to his government, even though last week a UDP stalwart was reported to have said that post-Sohiong bye election, the political equation could change. Assuming that the seat is won by Late HDR Lyngdoh’s son riding on the wave of sympathy, UDP’s strength will crawl up to 12. That is too little to bring about a tectonic change in power sharing. Besides, the opposition is in complete disarray. Newbie VPP has already made it clear that it was not interested in joining any coalition. It has other pressing priorities, one of them being to upstage all rivals and storm into power in the district councils. Meanwhile, Congress and TMC are behaving like an estranged couple caught seating uncomfortably next to one another! There is no visible move for a rapprochement; so much so that they could not come to an understanding over choosing a Leader of the Opposition. So much for opposition unity. Therefore, the decks are clear for the chief minister to seize the opportunity with both hands and push for taking the people to the promised land.
The fact that Conrad Sangma has the ears of Delhi is a good augury. Despite making some strident assault on the MDA government during the electioneering, the assurance of hand holding from the Prime Minister himself is reassuring. Conrad’s excellent rapport with union ministers is an added plus. Flagship schemes and flow of resources from the centre should not be an issue. During the next five years, will it be too much to expect establishment of rail-link and introduction of commercial flights making it easier for the people to travel from the comfort of their own state? Similarly, emphasis on creation of human capital and availability of jobs in the private sector will have to be top on the priority list. Come to think of it, availability of resources has never been the real hindrance. It is the lack of judicious utilization of the opportunity is what has let the state down. The challenge before the new government is therefore humongous. By no means can this be one man’s job. It has to be team work from top to bottom. Ministers, bureaucrats, technocrats and the huge army of field staff all must rise to the task. It is entirely up to Conrad Sangma to lead from the front. The hard task is to pick the right person for the right job rather than go by the beaten track. If MDA 2.0 has to make the difference, launching of time-bound programmes, followed by periodic review, monitoring, accountability is the sine-qua-non. The ball is squarely in Conrad Sangma’s court. Only a result driven performance during the next five years could be the harbinger of a new Meghalaya. It is now Conrad Sangma’s moment. He will have to take a call whether he wants to be another run of the mill chief minister or a pragmatic, go-getting achiever who will be remembered by history as a trend-setter.
Writer can be reached at: [email protected]

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