Monday, May 20, 2024

Through the lens of the Shillong Parliamentary Seat


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From “India is Indira” to “Har Har Modi”

By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh

The people of the Land of Hynñiewtrep, which includes areas under the Sixth Schedule and non- scheduled areas can elect only one individual to the House of five hundred and forty-three (543) members. An elected representative is empowered by the Constitution to serve not just his/her constituents but is privileged to have a say on issues that concern the ‘Nation’ as a whole. He or she, after being elected, transforms from particularity to universality and represents the aspirations of the State/community in the larger political context.
General Elections to
the Lok Sabha 1977
and 2024:
As the general elections to the Lok Sabha are drawing closer, the air is abuzz with promises (mostly false or undoable) to the accompaniment of drums, music, dances and dark humour. This year it is also marked by low grade politicking and campaigning ever.
In 1977 the Grand Old Party’s slogan, “India is Indira” which reverberated throughout the country was also embraced during the campaigns for the Shillong Seat. The “India is Indira” slogan is associated with Indira Gandhi who was the Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 to 1984. Unfortunately, “India is Indira” reflected the personality cult surrounding Indira Gandhi and sowed the seeds of autocracy and belief that the nation’s progress and well-being is closely tied to single strong and powerful leader.
However, Indira Gandhi’s rule also faced criticism for being authoritarian and suppressing opposition and civil liberties during the emergency. This eventually led to her defeat in the 1977 elections, demonstrating the importance of democratic values and the people’s power to hold their leaders accountable.
Similarly, in 2014 the popular chant “Har Har Modi” became so loud in several States in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections which brought Narendra Modi to occupy the Prime Minister’s seat for almost ten years. Although, the BJP leadership then had categorically denied that it was not the official slogan of the Party, much had been said and criticized about his rule. Critics have alleged that elected autocracy is in full display now and Prime Minister Modi is being perceived as a supreme leader with minimal checks and balances. This could potentially threaten the very foundations of democracy.
Perhaps there is now an undeclared emergency and citizens who question the policies of the current government are branded as anti-nationals and are locked in jails. The weaponization of Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to target opposition leaders, journalists and civil society groups is a matter of great concern. The blatant abuse of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) is having a chilling effect on freedom of expression, dissent, and the overall democratic fabric of the country. Besides, the aggression of frontal Hindutva based organizations is putting democracy and constitution under peril.
Shillong Parliamentary Seat 2024: Will this
election be a redo of 1977?
The 2024 Shillong Parliamentary seat election may not be an exact replica of the 1977 elections, but there are some similarities and lessons to be learned from that period. The 1977 Lok Sabha elections were significant as they took place post-Emergency, a time when civil liberties were severely curtailed, and the ruling party had exercised autocratic control.
Bah Kynpham Singh’s critique against the Congress leaders of Meghalaya and his pamphlet “Shithi Sha U Paralok” (The Letter to a Friend Dated 1 March 1977) played a crucial role in mobilizing public opinion against the ruling party (APHLC) then. The pamphlet highlighted issues that mattered to the state and community, and it contributed to the creation of a wave of support for the HSPDP candidate, Bah Hoping Stone Lyngdoh.
In the context of the 1977 elections, Bah Kynpham Singh’s critique played a significant role in raising awareness about the failures of the APHLC-led government in Meghalaya. By pointing out the issues with the subservient functioning of the AHPLC to the Congress government in Delhi, the failure to protect the people and land in the border areas, the corruption and misrule in Shillong Municipal Board, the public letter contributed to the shift in public opinion.
The domination of high command and single leadership in Delhi, as well as the inability of state units of national parties to take decisions independently is hindering the effective representation of local interests. In a coalition where a regional party is working with a national-based party, it is essential for the regional party to have the autonomy to make decisions that benefit its people. But this has not been the case for Meghalaya since 1972 and till date the ruling party in the State (whether led by National or Regional Party) remains subservient to Delhi and such servility seems to have no end in sight.
Candidates and Party (s) in the fray:
More than the regional conglomerate or RDA, the VPP is growing in popularity but apart from clean politics, which is seemingly their USP, the new Party has nothing new to offer. Their manifesto is no different from the other regional parties both in style and content. The furiousness of citizens against corruption very well connects the VPP with the masses. But clean politics sans idea and ideology is soulless. The VPP’s manifesto is ambiguous, and it has yet to make a clear stand against aligning with Hindutva based party. Will there be a post-poll understanding between the BJP and VPP? And if ever the VPP aligns with BJP it will betray its own ardent supporters who have been praying and fasting for their rise in politics.
The National Peoples’ Party (NPP) currently governing the state is facing several challenges, including allegations of corruption and cronyism. These issues have led to the party being perceived as a government catering to the interests of those well-connected within the high-level political circle. Additionally, the NPP’s association with the BJP, which is generally not favoured by majority of indigenous people in the state due to its perceived anti-Christian and anti-tribal minority stance, further complicates the situation.
The decision of the BJP not to field candidates for the Lok Sabha election this time can be deduced as a calculative and strategic move by the former. Perhaps, a win by any non-Congress candidate will be claimed as a win for BJP. In the Congress Mukht campaign, the BJP will consider a winning candidate of either RDA or NPP or even VPP as a natural ally.
Whereas the Grand Old Party will have to strive harder to re-imagine and repackage itself. How far will the “Paanch Nyay” or five pillars of Justice resonate with the people, especially in Meghalaya which is at the bottom of every development index. There is no denying the fact that the I.N.D.I.A Bloc is the only opposition group which has been formed to challenge the Hindutva based politics from taking over the Nation.
Popular issues for Shillong Parliamentary Constituency:
Every party or candidate is banking on a few popular issues, namely, ILP, CAA and Khasi language. Rather these issues, no matter how important, reflect the aspiration of just one section of the electorates and almost all party or candidates are not addressing with the same vigour and passion on crucial matters like health, housing, economy, education, workers’ rights, unemployment and under- employment, environment degradation, violence against women and minorities.
On the contrary, the electorates should not take seriously candidates who claim to fight for CAA, ILP and Khasi Language. These are long pending and vexed political issues of the indigenous community and shall never be resolved during elections, rather it requires consistent deliberative and participatory exercise.
While CAA must go as it is discriminatory and violative of constitutional morality, ILP must also be critically analyzed and seen against the backdrop of the workings of other constitutionally established laws and regulations, like the Inter-State Migrant Workers Act and Sixth Schedule.
The Khasi language’s inclusion in the 8th Schedule has been a long-standing demand, with significant efforts made by the Khasi Authors’ Society (KAS) and other stakeholders since the 1970s. Several key milestones in this campaign include (i) 1973: The Khasi authors’ collective, under Prof. R.S Lyngdoh’s leadership, urged the Sahitya Akademi to include Khasi as a recognized language (ii)1976: The Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council passed a resolution for the inclusion of Khasi in the 8th Schedule. (iii) 1977 and 1985: The Sahitya Akademi dispatched expert committees to visit Meghalaya, resulting in reports that emphasized the need for more Khasi-language science books and expanding the language’s appeal to readers beyond the community. (iv)1996 and 2003: Two important committees, the Pahwa Committee and Sitakant Mohapatra Committee, were constituted to study the matter further.
The Government of India is yet to include Khasi in the 8th Schedule. However, the Government of India is only given a standard reply in Parliament on the difficulty in setting criteria for their inclusion. The KAS and other stakeholders must continue to demand and provide compelling arguments for the inclusion of Khasi in the 8th Schedule. Additionally, there’s need to collaborate with other groups/organizations that share similar objectives to further strengthen the campaign for the constitutional status of the Khasi language.


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