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Turncoats & voters’ dilemma in Meghalaya

Frequent change in political colours by leaders will lead to confusion & stagnate growth of the state

The Indian Premier League’s team selection every season starts with the mega auction. Mid-season, a trading window opens up for players with certain criteria. In India, the auction season in politics starts with the announcement of every election and the trading window remains open for the next five years after completion of each election, both at the state and the central levels.

With the assembly elections either on or nearing in several states, party hopping is in full swing. As Nobel laureate James Buchanan observed that the reason for the failure of the idea of beneficial governments is that politicians are motivated more by self-interest than by an altruistic commitment to higher callings, the modern political praxis is propelled more by individualistic gains than ideological differences or lack of consensus over socio-economic issues of a particular region.

In Meghalaya, which is preparing for the assembly elections in 2023, the practice of hopping parties has been rampant before the last few elections. Last year, 12 of the 17 MLAs of the Congress, which was the main opposition in the Legislative Assembly till then, jumped the boat to join the All India Trinamool Congress, a primarily West Bengal-based political party that is audaciously, and in some cases impressively, exploring the political arenas in other regions. Their reason for the decision to change affiliation was that “sitting in the opposition will not bring desired results”.

The remaining five legislators of the national party recently extended support to the MDA government, of which they were hitherto so critical about.

Veteran politician RG Lyngdoh, who returned to the Congress last year after a long hiatus, deplored the culture of frequently changing party affiliations. “Legislators can play a constructive role even being in the opposition,” said Lyngdoh who, despite his suspension from the Congress for being critical of party activities, never deviated from his commitment to the party.

While the veteran politician’s one sister, Congress legislator Ampareen Lyngdoh, is set to join the majority National People’s Party (NPP), the other sister, Jasmine Lyngdoh, has already joined the party. So has Congress’s Martin Danggo, who was a legislator from Ranikor.

It was a political suicide for Danggo who joined NPP even after his victory in the assembly polls in 2018 on the promise of upgrading Ranikor to civil sub-division. In the bypoll held three months after he joined NPP, Danggo could not retain the seat and forced him to stay away from politics for a few years only to return to the same party.

However, Danggo said he did not regret the decision to leave the Congress as “I was instrumental in getting civil sub-division status for Ranikor”.

It is to be seen whether he continues to be convinced by his decision.

The list of turncoats in Meghalaya is longer than one would expect, and this time, the Congress seems to be losing more players than other political parties. While its former legislator, Bluebell Sangma, chose to go for the saffron party, sitting MLA PT Sawkmie is planning to shake hands with the United Democratic Party (UDP).

The degeneracy

UDP’s veteran leader Bindo Lanong had recently observed that “poaching in politics” was acceptable. Lanong is among the handful of politicians in the state who have remained loyal to their respective political parties despite hard times.

While everything is fair in war, what remains a cause for concern is the gradual degeneracy in the political system of the state in particular and the country in general. Political affiliations in today’s world are primarily driven by self-interest and not ideology. And in this vicious game, the electorate have been the biggest losers.

On what he thought about the turncoat culture in politics, Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh, a member of Thma-U Rangli Juki and former Presbyterian reverend, said, “Political ideology in Meghalaya is redundant. Educated people barely think about ideology. The nature of politics in the state is very sad. It is no longer a service. Now, if you tell people about principles, they will laugh.”

As once harsh critics of the party in power take a U-turn, the electorate wonder whether their voices will ever resonate in the words of their chosen representatives.

“Dear MLAs, MDCs, Turn Coats et al. you can change as many jerseys as you want. You are also free to jump as many ships as you could from Congress to NPP to TMC to PDF, to UDP to HSPDP bla bla. There are also canoes and rafts available. But please do not tell us and our children the lies that the NPP led Govt is the only Govt which has taken up the issues like boundary disputes, ILP etc. No it is not,” wrote Pyrtuh on his Facebook page in criticism of the changing colours and tone of politicians.

The changing moods of the people’s representatives are definitely creating confusion in the minds of voters as they are unsure about their leaders’ motives and future courses of action.

A Congress supporter in the city sounded confused when asked who would he vote for in 2023. “I support a particular leader but now that he is in Trinamool, I am not sure as I do not like the way AITC is working in West Bengal. It will be a tough decision,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Sunday Monitor asked several voters about their views on the changing political hues and most of them confessed that they were unsure.

According to veteran educationist MPR Lyngdoh, people are never happy with such random change in political affiliations. “Pertinent issues definitely get dissolved in the process. One day a leader supports this cause the other day that. People will get confused. But again, it is their democratic right to change affiliations,” she said.

She also remembered the “great leaders” that the state had who were dedicated to the cause of the constituents.

Senior journalist Philip Marwein pointed at the socio-economic implications of such a turncoat culture and said the frivolous attitude of political leaders in the state is a reason for the stunted growth of Meghalaya.

“This turncoat culture is prevalent in the local politics for some time now. But who does it benefit other than the individual political leaders? Do people get anything out of it? So many developmental issues are yet to be addressed but those become secondary amid this political fiasco,” he said.

In this politics of exchange, people’s choice in a democratic system loses power and is reduced to a farce. The worst affected are those belonging to the lowest stratum of the society.

Is there any hope?

If the turncoat culture of today defines the slump in regional and national political ideologies, then there has to be a trough and this can be achieved only by inspiring the youth to acknowledge the power of beneficial governments, believe a section of the citizens.

“I have not given up hope. We have to put a challenge before the millennials to follow ideological politics. It is difficult and one feels immobilised when the money factor comes to play. But they have to take up the gauntlet,” said Pyrtuh.

A group of young ideologists is already trying to send out the message to the hoi polloi. New Dawn, a newly formed organisation with young members, is paving the path of new age in state politics.

On how the organisation is acting on contentious issues like joblessness, delayed projects and lack of economic growth in Meghalaya, Avner Pariat of New Dawn said, “We are taking these issues to the public. The road is not easy but we have to walk the road as it is important. Political and economic education of people is crucial where our long-term strategy lies.”

While the process of cleansing the system has been initiated by a handful of young and educated citizens, it will take some time to educate voters about their rights and the ulterior motives of selfish leaders. It will not only require immense support from citizens but also a change in the apathetic mindset of voters. The dilemma continues until then.

~ Team Sunday Monitor

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