Friday, July 19, 2024

Political hubris and Icarus


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By Benjamin Lyngdoh

According to an ancient Greek myth, while escaping from Crete, Icarus flew too close to the sun despite being warned by his father Daedalus not to do so. The heat from the sun melted the wax that held his wings together and he plunged into the sea and drowned. The end of Icarus was because of ‘hubris’ which basically means excessive overconfidence filled with pride and arrogance. The myth also narrates that his father had already warned Icarus about hubris and the need to avoid it. The saying ‘do not fly too close to the sun’ comes from this story. Hubris and Icarus are hence always taken together when trying to make a point about pride and downfall – pride comes before a fall.
The 2024 Meghalaya Lok Sabha election saw political hubris from the NPP in both the Tura and Shillong seats. There was an air of arrogance and a sense of entitlement about the party. NPP harped upon what it has done as something extraordinary and positioned itself as the only party that can govern Meghalaya. It took pride on being part of the NDA with full confidence that the coalition would come back to power at the centre. The deal to partner with the BJP in the fight for the Tura and Shillong seats was a gross miscalculation of the ground realities. The hubris was such that most of the party cadres were never taken on board and consulted with. This single move cost the NPP both the seats. Now it is hurting so bad that it is hoping for the winners (INC and VPP) to fail.
While the Tura result was bad, the Shillong seat was a total humiliation. It underscores how detached the party has become from the very voters who were with them in the 2023 MLA election. It will be difficult to garner back the support of its vote bank for at least some years. The same goes for the other regional parties like the UDP and HSPDP. Unless something massive happens that works in their favour (like say it is proven that VPP is corrupt), it will be difficult times for them in the foreseeable future. In the current political picture, they have had their Icarus moments. Although the Indian National Congress (INC) lost the Shillong seat, its victory in the Tura seat is being viewed by the party as a revival. The BJP is a fringe party in Garo Hills and the tie-up with the NPP proved to be the final nail in the coffin. Friends of this writer narrated how clips/videos of atrocities on Christians spread like wildfire in Garo Hills thereby denting the chances of NPP. But, it would be wrong to attribute Saleng Sangma’s victory only to this factor. The Garos say Agatha Sangma’s campaign was overshadowed by the governance of her brother and Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma. It was more like he and not her was fighting the election. According to many Agatha just seemed to fade away and was a shadow of her past. Plus, Saleng is considered in Garo Hills as a ‘pro-poor guy’ who understands the plight of the rural masses while Agatha is more of an urban-centric politician.
In Khasi-Jaintia Hills the groundswell of support for the VPP is something to be closely analysed. VPP calls it a political movement. But, it is too early to classify it as such as a movement basically requires two elements – one, it must sustain over a significant period of time, and two, it must garner the support across the rank and file irrespective of caste, creed, class, faith and religion. Currently it has not met any of these two elements. Plus, can the recent expulsion of its frontline members is taken as a case of political hubris?
Today in Meghalaya there are only three political parties – NPP, INC and VPP. INC is a grand old party and NPP has been at it for quite some time. They both have had their share of ups and downs. Yet they are still alive and kicking-on. VPP is a very new party which so far has been only on the up. The true mettle of a political party is proven by the manner in which it tackles difficult situations. Currently, VPP has a lot of ‘political credit’. This means that even if the party does something wrong the voters will still continue to support it. For instance, even if Shillong MP Ricky Syngkon gives ‘issue-wise’ support to the NDA at the centre its supporters will not mind. This is because VPP would be selling it as ‘we gave support for such an amendment, bill, etc as it is in the best interest of Meghalaya.’ Parties like the NPP do not have such a luxury. In a discussion with some taxi drivers from Smit area it is amply clear that the voters will back VPP to the hilt if it does not sway away from its current path of – working for the jaitbynriew and protecting the interest of the jaitbynriew. They also would like to see how the VPP governs. This means that the VPP bandwagon would continue till the Meghalaya MLA election 2028. In the meantime, how would the Shillong MP repay the trust of the voters? For NPP and others it would be food for rebuttal.
The 2024 Meghalaya Lok Sabha election shows that the power is in the fingers of the people. The voters cannot be taken for granted. In this age of media technology political information is readily available to all. Good deeds and bad actions are reported to all. Voters analyse political developments and then decide which party to vote for. Hence, it is wrong to say that they vote only on the basis of emotion. Saying so is nothing but an insult to the intelligence and discerning power of the voters. In fact, the voters have voted with some hope and expectation in mind. They want to see change. They want to position Meghalaya as a state which is against divisive and sectarian politics. This is the key takeaway of this Lok Sabha election.

The victory of the INC in Tura is testament to the continued resonance and relevance of the party in Garo Hills. The victory of VPP in Shillong depicts that the people want to see a new form of politics – clean and just governance. These developments portray that a change in the manner of how politics is done in Meghalaya is possible and this is the hope that the people hold-on to. Will this come to fruition or will hubris takeover with time and a resulting Icarus end?

But, it is true. Every election is different from the other. It would be wrong to award a blanket victory to INC and VPP in the coming ADC and MLA elections. NPP and others will have their own strategies in place. Things change thick and fast in politics. And, if there is one place where hubris works the most, it is in politics! Many political Icarus’ have fallen, many yet still will fall!

(The writer teaches at NEHU; email: [email protected]


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