Wednesday, May 29, 2024

An Election Unlike Any Other


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By HH Mohrmen

The Shillong Parliamentary Constituency has never experienced an election campaign as exciting as the recent one. Some suggest that the election became electrifying since the entry of the Voice of the Peoples’ Party (VPP), a new political outfit in the state which identifies itself as a party with a difference. Other reasons that made it the most popular parliamentary election in the state were the different social media platforms. Thanks to the internet, the campaign became a level playing field for all, as people could access all they needed to know about the election to make an informed decision.
Ruling dispensation caught napping
The MDA partners, particularly the NPP, did not see this coming; they did not treat the VPP as a challenger to the mighty party and were not prepared for the contest. What can a party which is only four years old and with four MLAs do? How can they be a challenge to the NPP or the UDP for that matter, which has existed in the state and has a strong network of grassroots workers? Indeed, the party has no presence in many of the 36 constituencies, but what makes the people connect with the party? The question that was not asked was how a party with little or no funds can even contest in the election to the Parliament. So, how did the VPP become popular with the common people on the ground? How can an emerging party with no funds give the old parties in the state a run for their money?
What makes VPP click with the people?
What makes people connect with the VPP? From the speeches of the Party President, one gets the idea that there are three prominent issues that make up the party’s ideology. From day one, the Party President had reiterated that the party was formed to fight against rampant corruption in the state. That was the main agenda of the party, and the voters are not fools; they read in the news about the collapsed infrastructure in the State Assembly building, the ISBT leakage, the substandard construction of roads and buildings, and more importantly, the political appointees that have eaten up the vitals of the state exchequer. Clean politics is the main agenda of the new party, and this has been its leader’s focus since 2010 when he first launched his clean politics campaign, which died a natural death because of the lack of public support. Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit has been consistent in his call for a clean politics campaign.
The party also calls to fight against nepotism, where only members of the family of those in power or the party’s supporters get preference for government jobs or contract work. Appointments in the government offices have been made without interviews, as the vacancies, particularly those at the district level, were not even informed to the respective District Selection Committees since the posts had been filled by the supporters of the MLAs. The people are not blind to these sort of unfair practices, and the coming of the VPP, which called to fight against nepotism, is like rain after a dry spell. The third important issue mentioned by Basaiawmoit during the election campaign was to fight against poverty and work to improve the economy of the state. The call on these issues seems to resonate with the people and common man who with no monetary enticement or without even giving them a cup of tea, attend VPP meetings in hordes.
A video that circulated on social media shows how Brightstarwell Marbaniang, MLA of Mawlai constituency, after the big election campaign for the party’s candidate at Mawlai, was seen picking up litter from the road. The prominent leaders of the VPP dress casually, and they do not seem to be interested in the VIP culture. Compare this with what is being promoted by this Government, where chairpersons, members of different Committees and Commissions and even the leaders of the party, indulge in VIP culture. This Government has even provided top security cover to contractors who are from their parties, even if there is no threat perception to their lives. Defying court orders, one would find the leaders of the ruling party have their expensive cars with black tinted windows and even sirens. The public connects this government, particularly the NPP, as promoters of the high-level culture where only those close to the powerful benefited from government works and contracts. However, the VPP leaders walk the talk, and they have revealed their true selves that they are servant leaders.
This makes people connect with the party, its ideology, and follow its leaders because everything they offer is new and refreshing.
NPP shooting itself in the foot
The campaign was not constructive, as there were more entertainers than campaigners in the recent election. The campaign was also very ugly, as there was mudslinging from every direction, but in the entire episode, Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong, the star campaigner of the NPP, will go down in the history as the greatest entertainer during this election. He already made a name for himself from his own statements like, “ngi pynbiej ïa ki paidbah man ka 5 snem…, ki paidbah ki pynbor ïa ngi ban tuh…, ngin pynshong ïa ki ha tnum bus…, ngin ïatreilang bad ki ksuid ruh…” we fool them every 5 years and they succumb to our trick every 5 years; it is the public that force us to become corrupt – if they ask us for one hundred rupees we steal two hundred from the state coffers. Tynsong even ridiculed the political partners, particularly the UDP when he said, “After the election they will come begging to us. Since the bus is full we will make them sit on the roof and they will be happy about it.’ And to the party’s embarrassment that really happened. Now the UDP is known as “ka seng shong tnum bus” the party that is happy even if it has to sit on the roof of the bus.
Tynsong’s much-talked-about statement was when asked about possible alliances that NPP will make after the election. He said that his Party will work even with the devil if the situation demands.
Tynsong and his ilk derive happiness from making fun of others from the election platform. They may have this false sense of pride because it amuses their supporters and makes them laugh, but the public is not pleased with it. The saying by Abraham Lincoln, which was made popular by Bob Marley in his song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” says, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all of the time,” is very apt here. The public is not stupid anymore, and on the other hand, another different approach that the new party ushers is that its president reiterated every time is that the party came to educate and not to fool the public.
The public is also not foolish to the extent of not being able to connect the dots when more than one crore rupees were seized by the police in Arunachal Pradesh from a vehicle which was part of the Chief Minister and Party’s President cavalcade. That the vehicle belongs to a businessman who has business interests in Meghalaya is too obvious for the public to miss the wood for the trees.
The last nail in the NPP coffin, at least in the current election, is when the BJP decided not to contest from the Shillong parliamentary seat and instead supports its NDA partner. That this is a blunder of Himalayan proportion for the NPP will be obvious when the election results are declared. The BJP has its own calculation to withdraw from the race, but this will backfire for the NDA and its partner both at the state and the national level.
A battle for votes, hits, likes and views
Social media played a very important role in helping the VPP gain the much-needed popularity, and the credit goes to YouTubers. Common folks such as labourers, drivers to the hawkers in the street own a Smartphone now, and they made the best use of it during the election. More than the registered media houses and networks, it is the YouTubers who help popularize the party. They cover the campaign out of their love for the party, and VPP does not have to pay for their coverage, not even their conveyance. The YouTubers may have also gained from the likes, subscribes, shares, and views that the people made after viewing the content, but at the end of the day, the party gets its message across; the public becomes aware, and the YouTubers have their likes, subscribes, shares, and views. For the VPP, like the Bard of Avon said, “all’s well that ends well.”


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