Monday, April 22, 2024

Promises galore as candidates step up campaigns for Lok Sabha polls


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SHILLONG, April 2: With the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, the candidates of the state’s two seats – Shillong and Tura – are ramping up their campaigns, making promises ranging from Inner Line Permit (ILP) to the protection of the rights of indigenous people.
In Shillong, the race features two national parties, NPP and Congress, along with two regional parties and one independent candidate. In Tura, three national parties are competing alongside one independent candidate. The BJP is extending support to the NPP in both seats.
The Shillong Times spoke to voters to learn about their expectations and priorities.
Renowned writer Bijoya Dey Sawian emphasised the importance of people-centric and environment-centric development, cautioning against the prioritisation of money over values. She urged leaders to uphold their promises to the electorate, particularly in rural areas.
Dino DG Dympep, Chairman of the Meghalaya Peoples’ Human Rights Council (MPHRC), highlighted the need for candidates to focus on placing citizens at the center of their campaigns.
He said one issue that the candidates should prioritize in their campaign is that they should place citizens at the centre. He also said that they should come up with blueprints to address issues like unemployment, rising prices, health, education etc.
Professor Prasanjeet Biswas from North-Eastern Hill University stressed on better management of rural infrastructure, tackling rural unemployment, addressing job quotas, ensuring transparent public distribution systems, investing more in education for quality primary, secondary, and higher education, and safeguarding the interests of local tribal communities to prevent depletion of Meghalaya’s natural resources.
While some citizens of Meghalaya are well-versed in the political landscape and have clear expectations from their parliamentary candidates, others have different perspectives.
Talking about her expectations, Binita Mawlong, a housewife residing in Rynjah, said, “We want somebody, our own, to talk about the issues of the state, including the ever-increasing cost of living.”
She said things have changed over time, but Meghalaya has a long way to go.
“I don’t really follow politics completely, but from what I understand, when we elect an MP, he or she is supposed to be the voice of the citizens in the Parliament, and as a Sixth Schedule state, we do have a lot of issues, and they should be looked out for.”
While some people have a fair idea about the difference between parliamentary elections and  assembly elections, many others appeared to be confused about it.
M Kharlukhi, a vegetable seller in Laitumkhrah, is among them. She was confused when asked about her expectations from the Shillong parliamentary representative. After clarification, she emphasised the importance of the issues of the state being discussed nationally, as crimes and other issues often go unnoticed.
Overhearing the conversation, a middle-aged government employee, said, “Somebody needs to raise the pressing water issues and severe load shedding of the state. The central government is coming up with schemes for lighting up villages and providing water to all households, but look at the condition of our state, we receive the highest rainfall, yet there is no water and thereby, no electricity.”
There has been a relatively lower voter turnout in the parliamentary elections when compared to the Assembly polls.
Kharlukhi said, “I think the awareness of what a parliamentary candidate can do is lacking. Like I just realised when you explained it this time, we see the assembly candidates, know them since it’s a smaller area,” she said.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the voter turnout in Meghalaya was 71.37 per cent, the highest in 20 years. The 2023 Assembly polls recorded 81.57 per cent turnout.
Dympep attributed the lower participation in Lok Sabha elections to disagreements with national programmes and policies, whereas Sawian highlighted a lack of understanding among voters and minimal efforts by candidates to connect during these elections.
Both agreed that pre-election alignments are primarily driven by the desire to win, rather than genuine engagement with voters’ concerns.
However, Biswas, said, “Lower voter turnout during Lok Sabha elections can be overcome as this time campaign is high-octane. Public is interested in evaluating serious candidates not by their winnability, but by examining moral and political worth of candidates. Here new faces in Shillong seat are a major attraction to motivate more voters to cast their vote.”
Different perspectives emerged regarding the role and performance of Members of Parliament (MPs) representing Meghalaya, as well as the impact of party alignments during Lok Sabha polls.
A professor seeking anonymity criticised the perceived lack of visibility and effectiveness of Meghalaya MPs, noting that they often struggle to draw attention compared to counterparts from other regions.
The professor said, “People hardly see the MPs in the local places or in the parliament. Their presence in the parliament is hardly felt. Compared to Agatha Sangma, Pala seems to have more but they are unable to draw attention like Kiren Rijiju etc. MPs of Meghalaya don’t bring many local issues in the parliament, or they might be unable to draw that space.”
She further added, “There should be change in the leadership policies. More vocal people with honesty and integrity should be elected. Politics should be for service to people, not for gathering wealth and power.”
They advocated for a change in leadership policies, calling for more vocal and honest representatives who prioritise serving the people over personal gain.
However, Professor Biswas attributed the perceived shortcomings of MPs to parliamentary rules that limit their ability to raise state-specific issues effectively. Despite efforts by Meghalaya MPs, formalities within the parliament often hinder their endeavors, suggesting a need for reform in parliamentary procedures.
Pala and Agatha have had relatively similar attendance records in parliament, with the former participating in 17 debates and asking 235 questions, while the latter participated in 20 debates and asked 40 questions from 2019 to 2024.
Regarding party alignments, opinions vary. Professor Biswas suggested that the support of national parties like the BJP may have a limited impact on Meghalaya’s electoral landscape, as the core BJP voter base is unlikely to sway significantly.
Conversely, the anonymous professor emphasised the importance of focusing on local issues rather than aligning with national parties, expressing concerns about potential division and horse-trading within the state’s political landscape. They highlighted the need for leaders from the state to prioritize local concerns and resist divisive politics.
Overall, differing viewpoints highlight the complexities surrounding the role of MPs, party alignments, and the need for effective representation of the state’s interests in the national arena.


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