Monday, July 15, 2024

VPP’s foray into parliament: Challenges and opportunities ahead


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By Bhogtoram Mawroh

The maiden speech given by Ricky AJ Syngkon marks the entry of the VPP into Parliament. According to Ricky, the party won on the plank of anti-corruption and clean politics. Of course, that is not entirely true. It has to be acknowledged that people are fed up with the dismal condition in which the state finds itself today and want a change. But without an inordinate amount of exhortation in the name of jaidbynriew and religion, this spectacular victory, both in the state assembly and the parliamentary elections, would not have been possible. Therefore, it was also inevitable that both of these would feature prominently in his speech.
Ricky began his speech by acknowledging the grace of God by stating that “nothing is impossible with God” and linking it to the party’s victory. Of course, God also helped the parties the VPP fought against to win seats elsewhere. And the ideological enemy of the VPP, i.e., the BJP, still won the highest number of seats in Parliament. So, it is true when people proclaim that “God works in mysterious ways.” And what God was Ricky talking about? It is the Judeo-Christian God, as made clear by his reference to King Solomon of the Old Testament. But to Ricky’s credit, he was not as divisive as some of the others in the Parliament. While the reference to God is present in the standard oath to be administered by the MPs, some of the religiously motivated chanting was an absolute disgrace.
When Asaduddin Owaisi, the MP-elect from Hyderabad, walked towards the dais to take his oath, there were chants of Jai Shri Ram from the Treasury Bench. Chanting Jai Shri Ram after taking an oath is understandable, but doing so when a Muslim MP is about to take an oath is a reflection of the ideology that believes that all Indians are Hindus since the religion is indigenous to the subcontinent. Of course, this is not true, as Hinduism is as foreign as Christianity and Islam. But coming back to Owaisi, he began his oath by reciting a prayer in Arabic, from which I could only understand the word ‘shaitan’ which means the devil. So, I think he was asking God something in relation to the ‘devils’ who are trying to intimidate him. In the end, he chanted Allahhu Akbar, which means ‘God is great’. I was thinking maybe Ricky would say something like ‘in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.’ He didn’t, but during his maiden speech, he came very close to that. It is certain that this will help shore up the VPP’s support among Christians. But where does this leave the non-Christians, especially the practitioners of the indigenous faith, who also make up a substantial proportion of the state’s population? Will he push for granting minority status to the Khasi indigenous faith (highlighting its distinct identity from Christianity, Hinduism, etc.) in Parliament? Only time will tell.
But for the non-Christian Khasi, Ricky also had something in his speech. Ricky’s surname is Syngkon, which is from his father’s side, and his mother’s surname is Tariang. While Syngkon is a Pnar surname, Tariang is a War surname from Elaka Amwi (Amlarem Block). Ricky was quite profuse in the mention of the community as Khasi and not Khasi-Pnar/Khasi-Jaintia, which had become the norm and is one of the reasons why some claim that both are not the same community. It is to be remembered that it was the daughter of Loh Ryndi Tariang and Ka Li Dakha, Ka Nga, who founded Hima Sutnga, which later became Hima Jaintiapur that marked the beginning of the Pnar identity as a separate linguistic group. So, it is good to see that someone who has both Pnar and War lineages representing the Shillong seat from the most influential jaidbynriew political party of the day, stood for unity and mentioned the community by its proper name, Khasi.
Another good thing that he raised concerning the Khasi community was the inclusion of the Khasi language in the 8th Schedule. Khasi, as it belongs to the Khasian group, of which War-Amwi is the oldest, in fact older than Sanskrit, Hindi, and other Indo-Aryan languages spoken in the subcontinent. The Sohra dialect, which is the youngest among the Khasian languages, is itself around 700 years old. But the Indo-Aryan languages and Tibeto-Burman languages like Bodo and Meitei are already part of the 8th Schedule, while Khasi is not. While we must congratulate all these languages, especially the two indigenous languages mentioned above, not including Khasi is a grave injustice. It is high time that this is rectified and Khasi gets its rightful place in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
Another thing that all Khasis, Christian or non-Christian, will appreciate is his mention of the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. While the term indigenous peoples’ (IPs) is often used, it is not officially recognized by India. There will be occasions when he will be challenged on the use of the term, but Ricky must stand firm and continue using the term to describe the Khasi and the other indigenous peoples in the country. But apart from words, Ricky will also have to show in action that he can deliver on the issues that he has raised in Parliament, the most important of which is the border issue with Bangladesh and Assam. This is of course going to be the toughest challenge considering Assam is being ruled by the BJP, which will also have their own Assamese ‘jaidbynriew’ pride to satiate. The fact that VPP decided not to align with anyone in Parliament is also going to make it difficult to get support for the inclusion of Khasi in the 8th Schedule and the most important jaidbynriew demand of implementing ILP in Meghalaya, which was curiously absent from Ricky’s speech.
The VPP’s stance of going it all alone is a strange one, made stranger by their abstention from voting in the Speaker’s election. Granted that the BJP’s nominee was always going to win, the voting was a symbolic move to discern who stands where. In this highly partisan environment, not taking sides actually benefits the ruling dispensation. On one side, there is the BJP-led NDA, which has been accused of planning to change the Constitution if they had crossed 400 seats, and on the other side, there is the INDIA bloc, which used the motto ‘save the Constitution’ to bolster its numbers in Parliament. And we have the VPP, which is not in either of these two camps, effectively suggesting that they believe that both are wrong. In his speech, Ricky criticized the current government as well as the previous Congress governments for not solving the border issue. It is certain he will do this in the future as well. So, by annoying both camps, how does the VPP intend to garner support for the various issues that the party intends to raise in the coming days? I hope they are not planning to use this as an excuse in the future for not achieving whatever they have promised during the elections.
Everything is about give and take. What is the VPP going to promise either to the BJP or the Congress in return for their support of the issues that Ricky will raise in the future? More than the Congress, it is the BJP that will need the VPP’s support to increase its political influence in the eastern part of Meghalaya, i.e., the Khasi region. In Parliament, the BJP does not need the VPP’s support for any of the laws that it intends to pass in the coming days. It already has enough numbers to do it on its own. But it will need the VPP’s support to grow the party in the state, which at the moment is dependent on the personality politics of Sanbor Shullai and AL Hek. If VPP indeed is a party on the rise, it can, as part of the alliance with the BJP, help transfer some of its votes in the elections, thus helping the party open its account in the KHADC. AL Hek has already stated that the party might contest the MDC election. Assuming that VPP can maintain its upward trajectory, this partnership can continue into the 2028 Assembly elections as well. Being the ruling party, the BJP has the numbers to accept the demands, especially the inclusion of Khasi in the 8th Schedule. Unlike the BJP, which is not a serious political force in Meghalaya, the Congress will be hoping for some good results in the upcoming assembly elections to win back power. It already has a dedicated vote bank, which will be galvanized by the victories elsewhere, and they will not want to divide it with a party that will pose a serious challenge. Also, since the VPP is not supporting the INDIA bloc, with the recent example being the Speaker’s election and the criticism of the Congress governments handling of the border issue, it has no obligation to help the VPP increase their own support.
The partnership with the BJP, though, is laced with serious risks, especially considering its anti-indigenous peoples’ moves like the passing of the CAA to give citizenship to illegal immigrants. Then there’s the anti-minority violence that has been a feature of the last ten years. Will the BJP give up its Hindutva agenda for one single vote from an MP from Meghalaya? Even if it does, what will it want in return? One has to remember that nobody is going to do a favour to anyone if there’s no quid pro quo, especially in this polarized environment.
I like most of what Ricky said, but the biggest disappointment was his lack of mention of Manipur. When he talked about peace in the North East, I was hoping he would mention the conflict in Manipur and show solidarity with the indigenous peoples of the state, both Meitei and Kuki-Zomi, who have been left orphaned by the Prime Minister. Not siding with either the NDA or the INDIA bloc on ideological issues (I don’t know what they are) is fine, but ignoring the suffering of our indigenous brethren in the same region was very disappointing. Very soon, whether the government and the prime minister desire it or not, there will be discussions on Manipur. When that happens, the party, especially Ricky, must prove that he really believes in the rights of the indigenous peoples, and it’s not a phrase to be used and discarded. We will soon find out.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect in any way his affiliation to any organisation or institution)


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