Sunday, June 16, 2024

VPP and the challenges ahead


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By HH Mohrmen

The victory of the Voice of the People Party (VPP) by a significant margin to clinch the Shillong parliamentary seat has raised many eyebrows. Formed in November 19, 2021, the party which is in a nascent stage has grown from just four MLAs and now it is adding an MP to its force. Although it was expected that the party’s candidate would win the Shillong parliamentary seat, the margin was beyond any expectation. It remains to be seen how far the party can go in the future.
In its short journey, the VPP has also received its fair share of criticism, which is not surprising at all. The party’s meteoric rise in popularity is bound to attract criticism, especially from adversaries who see it as a threat to their own existence. But the road ahead for the party is definitely not going to be smooth; it is going to be a winding journey through difficult terrain. The question is how the party will navigate the challenges ahead and prove their detractors wrong. Critics on the other hand, have upped their ante to challenge the sudden rise of the party and they are ready with their criticism against the party.
Using God and Religion in Politics
Some of the party’s critics term the approach used by the VPP to capture power in politics by using God and quoting from religious scriptures as “Theonomy.” It was elucidated that “Theonomy” is a combination of two Greek words: “theos,” which means God, and “nomos,” which is Greek for law. “Theonomy” is a Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law, particularly the judicial laws of the Old Testament, which should be observed by modern societies.
It was also argued that those who hold this kind of belief will have followers who will blindly follow what their leaders say because they believe they are just following the will of God. Anybody who disagrees with them is seen as disagreeing with God’s will. It was also alleged that only verses from the Bible are being quoted, and they have yet to hear verses from other religious scriptures quoted in party meetings. But the party reiterates that it holds fast to the principles and values of the Constitution of the country. Perhaps since most of the leaders are Christian, it is not surprising that they quote from the Bible.
Is VPP taking the State in a Christian Right direction?
A section of society also alleged that VPP is taking the state in a Christian right direction and warned that this will alienate non-Christians from the Party. The Party’s detractors opine that the Party leaders quoting only from the Bible will alienate people of the indigenous faith. It remains to be seen if the Party will walk in the direction that their critics have predicted or remain a secular party that abides by the Constitution. The VPP will be able to dispel their detractors’ view of them as a religious fundamentalist group only if it can attract leaders from other religious groups too.
The Jaidbynriew Party
Another contention against the party is that it is a Khasi-Jaintia-centric party; it is alleged that the party caters to the needs and interests of the people of this one part of the state only. The party’s detractors illustrate that the demand for reviewing the state’s job reservation policy was for the interest of the Khasi-Jaintia and Ri Bhoi region of the state only. It was also alleged that the party is using the so-called “Khasi Victimhood” to win the support of the hoi polloi in the region. The question is, if the party wants to be a force to reckon with in state politics, can it afford to be communal and stay focused on the “jaitbynriew” issue only?
Is VPP promoting demagoguery?
A rejoinder to my article in The Shillong Times on the rise of the VPP alleged that the Party is promoting demagoguery, and this is a very dangerous development. It is understandable that they are referring to the leader of the party, Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit. The subsequent letter supporting this argument listed a long list of demagogues in the world from the time of the Greeks to present-day leaders who the writer considers to be demagogues.
Is it even fair and reasonable to compare the leader of the VPP with many demagogues in the world? That is for the public to decide. The writer provided a list of modern-day demagogues and how they rose to power, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish Head of State Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The question is, can Ardent become a demagogue? Is it even fair to expect him to be a demagogue, or is he a demagogue in the making? Only time will tell, but does he show traits of being a rising demagogue?
Hyper-emotional and populist campaign
During the election, it was also alleged that the party created a hyper-emotional scenario (Shongshit) among its followers, which was obvious throughout the entire election campaign for the Lok Sabha. A senior politician in the state had predicted that the rise of the VPP is a populist appeal which is temporary and not going to last long. A reality check – Can we say that the 5,71,078 votes for the VPP, which is more than half of the votes polled are a result of emotions running high? Surprisingly, all the remaining five candidates together could only muster 466,833 votes, which is nowhere near the halfway mark, then if we say it is but populist appeal, are we not questioning the wisdom of the public?
Politics a long-distance race
Paul Lyngdoh made a statement to the media that politics is a long-distance race, obliquely referring to VPP’s clean politics campaign and rebuking it as an unrealistic goal. The impression given is that the party may succeed in one or two elections but will not be able to sustain itself in the long run. They may not need as much money as other parties to contest the election, but they will definitely need money to run the day-to-day affairs of the party. Paul, being a senior and shrewd politician is not wrong in making this assertion. However, the last election has proven that the VPP used very little money in their campaign.
Road to the Assembly via the ADCs
The final goal of the VPP is to win the assembly elections; that is how they can bring change to the state. However, for the Party the journey to the Assembly is via the ADCs and unfortunately, the councils have their own issues and challenges. Since the ADCs do not fall under the purview of the Tenth Schedule or the Anti-Defection Law, the most common problem in the ADCs is the defection of the MDCs. It can be a challenge for the VPP to keep its flock together if and when it wins the two councils. Dr. Batskhem Myrboh, the spokesperson of the party, said that the process of choosing a candidate will start from the very beginning, as the party will be careful in selecting candidates before the party ticket is allotted to a person. After winning the MP election, there will be a long queue of prospective candidates vying for the party ticket, and they can certainly afford to be selective. This will make the job both easy and difficult for the party leaders. Myrboh also said in one of the panel discussions that the top tier of the party does not necessarily need to be politicians; hence, they can be objective in their selection of the candidates.
The road to the assembly will also largely depend on how the VPP performs if and when it runs the ADCs, as people will judge the Party’s performance in the ADCs. It is certainly not going to be an easy task because the VPP will have only less than four years until the 2028 assembly elections to prove that they it is worth the mantle. The question is, what new policies, programs, or projects is VPP going to introduce in the two ADCs to show that it is different? The Party has to demonstrate to the public that VPP means business and that it is here to stay.
What makes people vote for VPP?
This column, dated April 22, observed that during the campaign for the Shillong parliamentary seats, VPP was gaining ground because it was able to connect with the people. Now the Party was able to win the hearts of more than half of the people who voted because of the three core agenda of the party: clean politics, which vows to fight against rampant corruption in the state, doing away with nepotism in appointments to government jobs and the allotment of government contracts and supply work, and eradicating poverty in the State. So to call the victory mere populist appeal is to underestimate the wisdom of the voters.


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