Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Elections: It’s the season for boasting

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By Patricia Mukhim

It’s commonplace for the party heading the government to give a laundry list of what it has done for people. What is not said ever is what has been left undone/unfulfilled for decades and because of which Meghalaya is now proudly occupying the third place as the poorest state. Looking at the politicians and ministers through you would be forgiven to think they are overfed and that the poverty stats have got it all wrong. The problem is that the rich have claimed over the shoulders of the poor to claim their places in the sun. These are the people who are eating their cake and having it too.
We have minister-contractors whose sole interest is in winning all the bids for road-making, pipe supplying and laying for the JJM water supply system while others have started constructing hotels and resorts. Recently while on a visit to Laitsohpliah I was told that an under-construction hotel complex located in a beautiful part of that village overlooking the Sohra canyons belongs to a minister in the MDA government. When I checked out the profession of this man on his CV provided to the Election Commission of India, I was quite amused that it is “Social Work.” In fact quite a few of the ministers are “social workers,” since they have nothing to show for as a profession before entering politics.
So now let me get back to the bragging rights campaign. Conrad Sangma has unabashedly laid claim to fame that his government was the first to approach the Supreme Court to lift the ban on coal mining. The Supreme Court has not lifted the ban unconditionally but has stated upfront that rat hole mining would not be allowed and would be replaced by scientific mining methods keeping in mind the environmental concerns. So Meghalaya’s Chief Minister Conrad Sangma proudly proclaims that his government did what those before him didn’t have the courage to do – go to the Supreme Court to battle out on behalf of the coal mafia. In that aspect, Conrad Sangma does not disappoint. He knows which side of the political bread is buttered and that the NPP needs hard cash to run the organisation. That cannot come from electoral bonds which despite all the secrecy has now hit the ceiling. Cash transactions on the other hand leave no trace. Coal mining continues the rat hole way and the NGT too appears to have given up on the matter pleading that it is not getting cooperation from the government. Did the NGT not know it was fighting the government because if the entire system is in cahoots with the coal mafia, what does that say?
Of all the things that Conrad Sangma chose to say while campaigning in Jaintia Hills, it was only about legalising coal mining. He needs to keep humouring the coal mafia if the NPP is to survive the vagaries of politics. Sangma does not care that there are people dying inside the mines even today! And neither does the NGT. So if you’re poor its your fault that you have to choose to go inside those deadly mines where the whole business is run smoothly – better than even the Godfather.
How many people in Jaintia Hills actually benefit from the coal business, especially the underhand one that is continuing today? Does the state have any statistics on this? Would any of the universities in Meghalaya or any central university have such data? Of course it is dangerous to collect such data or to venture anywhere near the coal mines but isn’t that what universities are meant to do? This is so that any tall claims such as that the ban on coal mining has led to poverty are called out and/or backed by evidence.
If a chief minister were to brag about providing better health care; a more efficient and effective education system; better roads; better water supply etc., one can check those out and contest his claims but who would dare contest the ‘high level’ who run the coal mines. People who live in Jaintia hills just have to keep shut. It’s amazing that neither the Deputy Commissioners of East and West Jaintia hills and the SPs of the two districts have absolutely no idea of the illegal coal trade. I guess Meghalaya is what it is today because of the complicit silence of its citizens. In a break from this tradition of silence is the Environment Coordination Committee (ECC) of Elaka Sutnga that stood up stoically against the coke units that were causing large scale pollution and had become a threat to the health of people in the area. Other than this group, not a single pressure group that shouts at the top of their voices and from whose mouth the word ‘jaitbynriew’ slips out so effortlessly, has ever stood against illegal coal mining. And we know the reason why. We have learnt to accept this too as part of our burden to nurture the culture of silence.
Do the electorate ever get to ask questions at the end of an election meeting? They are already too tired listening to cheap, pompous claims or the bad-mouthing of rivals that is part of the election game that they just want to go home and rest their tired minds. And in these times we know that there are so-called ‘leaders’ hand-picked by the candidates who actually manage the expenditures et al and are responsible for bringing the crowd to the campaign venue. This is such an old trick and it never fails. Often, if the meeting is in the evening then there’s packed dinner and if in the daytime then packed lunch. That’s been the election scene in Meghalaya since the past 50 years and that’s how it is going to be this time around. In Meghalaya, the Congress still has its vote bank but whether Pala can hold on to those and fight the “high level” that are characteristic of Jaintia Hills and also fight their money power is a multi-million dollar question. Elections are getting more expensive by the day. Why do you think the BJP needed the electoral bonds to fill their coffers despite all the claims of Acche Din. The BJP is a shrewd business machine. It easily comprehends that development and all its paraphernalia don’t win elections. All the bombast is meant to brainwash simpletons. The shrewd ones want cash. That’s what elections are all about anyway. Denying this is to live in a fool’s paradise.
And if money is what buys the honey then I suppose the NPP +BJP will take away both seats this time around. I will be very happy to be proven wrong. But coal money has always decided elections in Meghalaya and this time is no different.
As voters we have almost accepted that we vote because we have to vote, not that any kind of change in our stations in life are likely to change. We are hardened by the let-downs we have suffered from one election to the next. The brother of the Deputy Chief Minister has just bought himself a high end Mercedes which we can only see in our dreams and watch the video on social media of how the buyer was feted by the Company. These sorts of images don’t even anger us anymore. We have learnt to accept each of these insults to our senses as our lot.
So yes elections will come and elections will go but the poor will continue to slog and only the privileged few will reach the pinnacles of wealth and success because they are on the right side of politics. Sorry but too many of us are on the wrong side of it.
And Meghalaya is already deeply embedded in the rent-seeking economy with many people not wanting to work but looking at easy ways of earning money from vulnerable groups. So elections or no elections matters little to us because we have not learnt resistance and our lips are sealed when it comes to shouting for the right reasons but there’s a lot of sound and fury for the wrong ones.
So come April 19 and it’s no big deal…

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