Sunday, June 16, 2024

Political parties need to do a critical reality check!


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By Kitdor H. Blah

Political parties in Meghalaya need to take a very serious reality check. Just two or three days before the counting of votes, an interview was done by a local news channel on YouTube where all the leaders of the political parties talked about their own base, and said that no one party will have an easy win. The exception was the spokesperson of the Voice of People Party (VPP), who exuded confidence in a big win from the start.
After the high voter turnout on April 19, even by low or conservative estimates, VPP was always going to cross the 4,00,000 mark easily and it was always going to win by a margin of 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh votes. This was always going to be the case and yet, the leaders of the other parties could not see it or refused to acknowledge it. This was a low estimate, minimising VPP’s incursion into the base of Congress and the NPP and assuming that new voters were distributed evenly among the main contenders, and also assuming that the high turnout was equally distributed among dormant voters who never voted in the last Lok Sabha elections and newly registered voters.
But after the results, what we saw was that VPP performed maximally well and exceeded the expectations even of many of its supporters including the estimates given by its leaders. So, looking forward to the next ADC election, there is one simple task for the VPP, and that is, to draw a similar turnout again. If it can do this, it will be an even bigger win in the ADC elections without the non-tribal vote. But what the other political parties should understand and take stock of is that the result of the MP election means that we can no longer have a low or conservative estimate of VPP’s vote share in the coming ADC election. That ship has sailed. So, even if the turnout in the coming ADC election is reduced by 5 or even 10 per cent, the results would still match the low estimates of VPP’S vote share in this MP election, which the other parties did not even acknowledge just days before counting.
So, the only question is, will the VPP still draw a similar turnout in the coming election? Judging by the victory rally on June 8, and judging by social media popularity, there is no reason to believe that it will not. But the other parties have so far refused to associate social media popularity with real life popularity. After the state assembly elections last year, an NPP leader stated that VPP is an East Khasi Hills party that will make no impact in Jaintia Hills. This disconnect with reality among the other parties is so interesting to behold. Of course, the results of this MP election means that they are so far off reality that they need to do a critical reality check and stop politicizing non-issues like lineage or fictitious issues like labelling VPP a Christian BJP. But it is not only the political parties that are focusing on fictitious issues. There were some scholars and intellectuals who were contributing to these fictitious issues, and between them and the parties, there was an echo chamber that disconnected them from the ground reality. Is it any wonder that the Assam CM was emboldened to use that same fiction to justify the dismal performance of the NDA in Meghalaya, as well as in Mizoram and Nagaland? We cannot blame the Assam CM alone, however shameless his comments were. It was also the Congress leader in Meghalaya himself who used the term ‘Christian BJP.’
The intellectuals have nothing to lose for holding to a fictitious narrative, but it has proven very costly for the political parties. Personally, I do not see any substance in that narrative. Is invoking the name of God against secularism? After all, every person is inevitably guided by his value system. My personal view is that there is a modern hyper-sensitivity to anything religious, and this modern Rationalism interprets the word Secular to mean Anti-Religion, which is wrong. So, as soon as the name of God is invoked in any sense, these scholars tend to react hyper-sensitively and unfortunately, equate it with the fanaticism of Hindutva ideology. Unfortunately, the political parties fed off of this narrative and it cost them dearly. The consequences of running an election campaign on these fictitious issues is reflected in the election results. The people did not buy it; it did not resonate with them and hence they voted accordingly. While the VPP was always going to win, following the high turnout, the maximally good performance is also a reflection of the abysmal campaign of the other established parties, whose main issues were lineage and religion. In hindsight, the other parties should see just how abhorrent it was to use these non- issues in their campaign.
But it is also interesting to see that not only did the other parties focus on fictitious issues; they also failed to take real issues seriously such as the issue of CUET. The recent corruption case in the GHADC as well that came under the scanner of the Lokayukta, was not taken seriously. If the question in this election was how much incursion the VPP was going to make into Jaintia Hills, I believe that we can also ask how much incursion is VPP going to make into Garo Hills if the other parties continue to focus on non- issues and fail to take real issues seriously. Of course, the big win by Congress in Tura seat means that the Congress party is still the largest single party in Meghalaya parliamentary politics, with 34% of the vote share, despite its poor performance in Shillong seat. And this will reflect in the ADC elections in Garo Hills as well. But even if the Congress party is the single largest party in Meghalaya parliamentary politics, it is not by a lot, as the VPP follows with a close 33% of the vote share, and that too without any presence in Garo Hills, yet.
So, as we look forward to the next election season – that of the ADCs, I appeal to the intellectuals and the political parties to stop making issues out of non- issues, and to stop creating fictitious issues. The political parties, especially, must take stock of the election results and do a critical reality check, because as it is today, they have completely lost the plot. As for the VPP, if it can draw out the same numbers, then it will create history yet again.


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