Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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The election that was and wasn’t

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By Albert Thyrniang

The high voltage MP electioneering in the state has eclipsed the lukewarm campaigns of other years. Even as the month-long festival of democracy is done and dusted many have fond memories while others display a sense of disappointment for very few ‘real issues’ were actually raised or discussed. This is a relook of the election that was and wasn’t.
The party that was the talk of the town was the Voice of the People’s Party (VPP). Without the nascent party the elections would have been even more boring. The signs were clear from the last Assembly elections that the ‘Nongkrem originated movement’ was going to galvanize the masses. Other established parties scorn the penniless party. The ruling partners might have thought that their deep pockets would do the usual trick in camouflaging failures with cash prior to and on the polling date. The political naivety could see them in peril.
The reason why the VPP captured the imagination of the voters is apparently clean politics. The current government is seen as corrupt, accursed with nepotism and hell bent on privileging the ruling class. On its final rally in its stronghold, Nongkrem the Party came up with the catchy slogan, ‘No clean politics no rest’.
A closer look, however, reveals that the VPP’s campaigns were an emotional and angry outburst against the rulers rather a well-crafted political vision. The shrill rhetoric made people emotionally charged. In Khasi the terms to describe the atmosphere are, ‘shongshit, shitrhem and khluid.’ At the end probably people voted with their hearts rather with their heads. The VPP is on a high but what rises up quickly might also come down at the same rate.
The VPP never presented the mechanism/s to tackle corruption. Prestone Tynsong poked fun saying his main adversary, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit did not answer a questioner whether the cleaning act should begin from the head or the bottom. Big mouths against corruption akin to styles adopted by pressure groups is like drinking cold water on a sunny day but eliminating it needs a thoughtful strategy. We didn’t see that being articulated in the VPP leaders’ speeches even till the very climax.
Henceforth it will be a constant test for VPP’s ‘righteous’ leaders. Towards the end of the bitter marathon allegations of fund embezzlement came out against the VPP protagonist, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit himself. According to the accuser, Basaiawmoit had allegedly withdrawn ₹ 30.25 lakhs from the KHADC account as CEM and a land deal was struck on a Rs 10 non-judicial stamped paper shown as money paid to the land owner in Mawkyrwat. FIRs were filed and counter filed. If there is any truth in then it could signal the premature end of VPP.
Besides being fanatical, along the lines of the BJP, the VPP bears another resemblance to the saffron brigade. It has become arrogant. The party has already summarily dismissed three functionaries even without a hearing. Just as in the BJP, absolute and unquestioning obedience is demanded. In the BJP the supreme leader is Narendra Modi. In the VPP the counterpart is Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit. Anyone who manifests any degree of dissent will be shown the door. Batting clean politics was refreshing but the VPP clearly possesses dictatorial attributes.
The NPP has ruled the state for five years but there was no talk of development, achievements, implementation of central programs and initiatives for the rural populace. Deputy chief minister, Prestone Tynsong had proudly announced that when NPP embarked on its mission the chief minister decided to give priority to the rural areas. To him positive changes are already visible. Then why stay silent on this front? The reason is because villages have remained poor with no water, no good roads and no education. All what the NPP did was attack the charismatic VPP supremo. No wonder Prestone Tynsong, the NPP candidate, Ampareen Lyngdoh, Bajop Pyngrope, Banteidor Lyngdoh and others ended up in online memes.
Ampareen Lyngdoh carried the baggage of the ‘white ink’ episode. The court is still to clear her name. Any way she is now a senior politician. She has held various portfolios, including education, but clearly she knows very little about the state. It is obvious she hardly ventured outside Shillong as education minister. She is not aware of the pathetic education scenario in rural areas and the general backwardness of the state. Even though she is qualified to be called veteran, she looked shocked at the pitiable condition in Umsiang. To impress voters all she could promise was to come back to the border village after the election for a night or two (please laugh). In Garo Hills the party ended up defending CAA and BJP’s voluntary support. Overall, the NPP’s campaign was bereft of substance.
With little manoeuvring space the ‘bus roof riders’ UDP turned good boys. The candidate, Robertjune Kharjahrin offered to set up a monitoring body for MP schemes but with the three-time parliamentarian, Vincent Pala facing no malpractice charges the proposal found no takers. The ‘Drum’ party then tried to rake up the Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit’s and VPP’s candidate Ricky Syngkon’s father’s surname issue. However, it was quickly blunted by the retort that JJM Nichols Roy, considered the pioneer of the Sixth Schedule and the architect of the autonomous district councils, included his wife’s surname along with his own.
One disagrees with ‘Bah’ Ardent but at least his children are Basaiawmoit. In the ‘Jaitbynriew’ (Khasi society) we have clan names such as ‘Chyne’, ‘Cajee’, ‘Conjee’, ‘Cunville’, ‘Fancon’, ‘Decruz’, ‘Sootinck’ and what have you. How on earth is ‘Chyne’ equivalent to ‘Khain’, ‘Cajee’ to Khaji, ‘Conjee’ to ‘Khongji’, ‘Cunville’ to ‘Khongwir’, ‘Fancon’ to ‘Phankon’, ‘Decruz’ to ‘Dohkrut’, ‘Sootinck’ to ‘Suting’? What are the ‘Seng Kur’ (clan safeguarding organisations) doing? What has the UDP to say on this? Its own MDC, till a while ago the CEM, is a Chyne. This is highly irresponsible. If everyone has the liberty then ‘Casee’ can be written for ‘Khasi’, ‘cublei’ for ‘khublei’, ‘kyrcu’ for ‘kyrkhu’, ‘camtam’ for ‘khamtam.’ A new dictionary could be compiled.
The Congress stayed calmed in the Shillong seat. It should have been more aggressive given the reality that it is the only alternative to the NDA and the BJP in particular. Congressmen and women did not exploit the need of the hour forcefully. They relied mainly on the silent voters. The Garo Hills colleagues did a better job. Saleng Sangma and company used the anti-BJP sentiments to good effect. From a weak opponent the grand old party emerged a potential winner.
After all the parties and candidates had their say, the public has still not understood the role of a Member of Parliament. None of the two constituencies in the state saw a common platform for their candidates. For the one in Shillong only two independent candidates turned up. MPs though are the highest elected members with no executive powers. The executive is in the hands of a few of them – that too if an MP belongs to the ruling party. Even the MP schemes are allotted by the central government and executed by the state government. They go through the Blocks. So per se an MP has little to do with development. The first and foremost duty of an MP is to legislate for the whole country. He/she can introduce private bills in parliament. This is rare. But an MP’s most important and visible role is to support or oppose a bill that would become law. Similarly MPs support or oppose the current government’s policies and actions in and outside parliament.
It is along these lines that the electorate in Meghalaya too should have voted. Being alarmed at the BJP’s divisive laws, its communalized and polarized politics etc., appropriate MPs should represent Meghalaya either as part of a ruling or opposing alliance. Was this made sufficiently clear to the 22,17,100 voters? Were the 81.37 percent Tura electors and 73.78 percent Shillong voters adequately informed of the most important responsibility of an MP when they lined up before the EVMs?
The new spice in the election, social media was misused this time too. Fake news came to the fore. The TMC and the VPP were targets. Another element was the abuse of a couple of clergymen. Enthusiastic partymen rushed to condemn the offence. They did not do so for any love of the clergy but to appease the church members. Without justifying the uncivilised comments, the church and the leaders need not be holy cows. They are not above criticism. The public need not think that in spite of mistakes and misdeeds the church should never be criticised. Priests and pastors who decide to talk to the press must be prepared to get some sticks too. They are capable of defending themselves. Politicians need not feel obliged to protect them.
Look at from any prism the elections in the state were educative in some ways.

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