Thursday, April 18, 2024

Shillong Lok Sabha seat: What an MP election is not!


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By Benjamin Lyngdoh

The Member of Parliament (MP) election is not like the MLA or MDC election. In electing an MP the stakes are higher and this is more so in the case of Lok Sabha where life-changing laws are made. For example, take the Aadhaar card. Earlier people resisted but now everyone needs to have one as all schemes are routed through it. Else people always thought that Meghalaya was exempted from Aadhaar. It is to be factored that when it comes to the Lok Sabha grand picture, Meghalaya with its two seats is basically at the receiving end with little or no bargaining power. Now, if one were to closely follow the election campaigning methods for the Shillong seat, one can be excused for mistaking it as an MLA election. The arguments which are based on national perspective are missing. This is what an MP election is not. Below are some cases in points.
An MP election is not about whether a mei-nah or pa-nah should vote or not for NPP, it is not about whether the candidate who hardly wears the jainsem locally would wear it frequently at Lok Sabha; it is not about church elders distributing alcohol to voters; it is not about mother’s or father’s surname and it is also not about standing alone in the Lok Sabha.’ An MP election is about addressing legislations and amendments that would change traditional practices and norms. For example, consider The Constitution (125th Amendment) Bill, 2019. This amendment provides for the presence of village and municipal councils. The village council is meant for a village or a group of villages in the rural areas and municipal council for the urban areas. The administration of these councils will be under the respective ADC’s in terms of their composition, powers, functions and election processes. In addition, the village and municipal councils can also play a role in planning for development, deal with land reforms and land use, etc if the Governor of the state wishes to devolve such functions to them. Now, these are far-reaching amendments which would dilute the dorbar shnong oriented local administration which currently exists. Now, everyone will have the right to contest for locality posts across genders and with compulsory elections. However, none of the political parties and candidates has made their stand clear on this issue. It is time for them to spell out what their approach will be in terms of bargaining with the new central government to preserve Meghalaya’s local traditions and norms.
An MP election is not about who has the best or worst of songs, it is not about someone being angelic or demonic, it is also not about a possible demise of any political party because of instances from past history like the PDM and PDF, neither is it about going to church service or otherwise. An MP election is about figuring out the sea change undergoing in India in the last five years through ‘deliberate systems.’ For example, take Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Uniform Civil Code (UCC). This writer coins them as ‘deliberate systems’ as they are aimed at deliberately reforming the nation as we know it by the year 2047. The BJP talks of Amrit Kaal (Era of Elixir) as a vision to be achieved by 2047. Embedded deep within the idea of Amrit Kaal is the seed of Hindutva. If everything goes according to plan, the Bharat of 2047 will be nothing like the India of today. CAA, NRC and UCC are nothing but strategies for the achievement of the long-cherished vision of BJP. CAA is now in place. NRC will then be the basis for the deportation of illegal immigrants. This would ensure a proper assimilation of the Hindu population which would then make the implementation of UCC seamless. UCC would require a religious basis for administration and it goes without saying which religion that would be. Currently, zero content has come from the parties and candidates on this matter. The voters need to hear unequivocally and without any ambiguity what is the roadmap of the parties/candidates on dealing with such ‘deliberate systems’.
An MP election is a strategic election. It directly impacts on the well-being and rights of the people. It is less about getting and/or making schemes. In its normal course of governance any central government would come up with developmental schemes. An MP election is one that would define the direction which the nation would take in the coming five years and beyond. It is about ensuring that the Constitution of India is respected and followed and that amendments to it, if any, would not impinge upon the rights and privileges of the people. It is about ensuring that the rights of the minorities are protected.
For instance, take the case of the intention to suppress the rights of STs in recruitments – recently, a UGC document (although later withdrawn) intended to curtail appointment of STs in central universities. Further, what about the degradation of the environment and the continued disregard for a statutory body like the NGT by the coal barons who unabashedly engage in illegal coal mining. It is best if the political parties refrain from making generic statements such as ‘we will work for the jaitbynriew’ and rather focus and talk more on specifics.
An MP election is about collaboration. Currently, national politics is divided into NDA block and INDIA block. The parties and candidates contesting the Shillong Lok Sabha seat cannot campaign without specifying which block they would be part of. No politician can stand alone in the Lok Sabha. The ‘one man stance’ does not work. Today, the political picture in India is one of polarization and the parties/candidates must choose sides. For instance, take the case of undue influence (explicit and implicit) on institutions such as the courts, financial institutions, educational institutions, etc. Credible and independent institutions are the hallmark of any democratic country. Any democratic country would fail the moment institutions are controlled by the government of the day with an ulterior motive. For example, SBI recently tried to delay the disclosure on electoral bonds till June 30, 2024. This was done despite clear directions from the Supreme Court to share information by March 6, 2024. This attempt was possible because Government of India is a major shareholder in SBI. This recent episode highlights the need for credible and independent Indian institutions. These are the type of issues which underline what an MP election is all about. Will the parties and candidates take a stand on such issues?
In the end, Shillong deserves a politician who would present the issues of Meghalaya. That the right candidate gets elected as MP becomes imperative. This totally depends on the voters’ wisdom. One way to assess is to look at parties and candidates who actually talk on issues with solutions and not just indulge in fear-mongering and mud-slinging on opponents. It is high time we understand the importance of the Lok Sabha election! (The writer teaches at NEHU; email: [email protected])


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