Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Change that we can in 2013

Meghalaya does not need a fortune teller to prophesise the kind of future that is in store for the state if it continues to be led the way it is now. Neither does the state need a soothsayer to declare that it needs monumental change if it is to make any progress and catch up with the rest of the country. The curve in the growth chart of Meghalaya is currently on its downward slide; be it in the health, education or other social sector; it therefore calls for an immediate change to make the curve head north and that change should start from the top. A popular adage says; “there is only one thing permanent in the world and that is change,”

The change that we need is from top to bottom precisely because the rot in the system is not at the grass root level but at the top hierarchy of our political system. It reminds me of the wisdom of an elderly man in Nongtalang who in one of our discussion about corruption said, ‘You only need to push the big boulder from the top and the shingle will follow suit.’ We need to strike at the top which is the seat of power and also the foundation of corruption and once we are able to remove big problem; all else will eventually follow.

We cannot afford to let corruption remains merely a topic of debate in the hearth of the Khasi Pnar or the people of Meghalaya’s homes, enough rumbling and grumbling, the need of the hour is to act and the time is now. If we are hoping to achieve any semblance of a clean politics after 2013; there is no other way but to work for a clean electoral system, because election is where corruption starts.

Few people like bah Arden Basaiawmoit refuse to remain a mere spectator to what is going on in the state decided to move ahead and refused to be cowed down by his adversaries who would certainly discourage him and suggest that he is fighting a losing battle. Like any activist he is foolish enough to believe that he can at least make a difference if not bring change to the political system. How far can the movement go? Only time will tell whether it can bring any change in the political system in the state or not. Certainly the CPC has achieved one thing and that is making people talk about change rather than just grumble about it.

Arden’s Clean Political Campaign is not enough; we need more civil society’s involvement if we are to see change after 2013. If the political parties have started preparing themselves for the next state election, the people of the state too; need to gear themselves up for the same. If the political parties are fighting to win the election, the civil society should see to it that clean political system wins the day and it should starts from the 2013 election. The recent election results of at least the two states of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal once again prove right the adage which says ‘you can’t fool all the people all the times.’

I believe if we can only have a clean election, half of the battle against corruption is won. The Election Commission of India has introduced radical electoral reforms but politicians can always find some loopholes in the system and circumvent the rules. There are also issues peculiar only to a certain areas which the general election guidelines fail to address. As the saying goes; local problems call for local solution, only the local civil society can, address these local electoral problems.

For instance we have a practice in Jaintia hills wherein during the 20 odd days of electioneering, candidates organize election campaign in the major town or villages of their respective constituency. The candidates visit all the places followed by a huge motor cavalcade which include buses, cars and what have you. Every evening; each candidate spends thousands of rupees if not laks to hire these vehicles to carry his supporters from their respective villages to the meeting place. The host local Dorbar Shnong (where the meeting is held) can help curb the expenditure of the candidates by allowing only the candidates and few of his supporters to come and canvass in their village. If all the Dorbar Shnong can stops this madness during the election; I think half of the candidates’ expenditure is saved. Better still, instead of allowing the candidates to campaign in their village on different dates, the Dorbar Shnong can instead organize a common platform for the candidates to debate in front of the people.

I don’t know how civil society group would address a peculiar problem like people asking money from the candidates. During election people literarily come to beg money from the candidates for their medical checkup, buying books for their kids, money to pay their children schools fees or admission fees and even buying nappy for newborn babies. Young people particularly boys queue in front of the candidates’ houses to seek sponsor for picnic, musical concert, excursion trip and even for drinks. How can we do away with the practice of visiting candidates’ houses during election for a cup of tea or a few plates of rice and pork? There is joke doing the round in Jaintia hills about a certain candidate who came up with a clever idea to test his chance of winning the election. He thought since there are so many people who came to dine in his house on the voting day, simply counting the numbers of used plates will help him guess the numbers of votes he will get. The numbers of used plates almost exceed half the numbers of the voters in the electoral roll of the constituency. From the numbers of used plates our candidate was very confident to win the election. But on the counting day, contrary to what was expected, he did not even get quarter of the votes polled and loss the election. Since then we have a saying in Jaintia hill ‘don’t ever estimate your chance of winning the election by counting the numbers of the used plates.’ This is another election problem that the civil society needs to be creative enough to come up with idea to discourage people from visiting the candidate’s house during election.

There is another practice perhaps peculiar only to the Khasi Pnar society and that is when the Dorbar Shnong decides to sponsor a candidate because he is from the village, he is the son of the soil or for other reasons. Of course everybody knows that there is no such thing as 100 percent unanimity in any kind of community decision and very often than not, the minority who do not conform to the majority’s decision were denied their rights to votes and even ostracized by the village. We have instances where houses of those who opposed the DS (majority) decision were burned to ashes. DS should be discouraged from sponsoring candidate because it is undemocratic and it is against the tradition.

Political observers in the state have a reason to cheers when the churches too have taken a stance against rampant corruption in the state. Pastors of the Presbyterian Church in many of its gathering; be it the Assembly or the Synod used the pulpit to speak against the evil of corruption, this is indeed a reason to be optimistic. Albert Sweitzer on one of his trip to the USA; visited Chicago and many people waited to welcome him at the railway station. Setting foot on the railway platform; Albert Sweitzer saw an old woman struggling to carry her bag, instead of walking straight to the dignitaries and press people waiting for him, he immediately went to help the woman carry her language and then return to meet the welcome party. A journalist watching in awe at what had happened can’t help but remarked ‘that was the first time I saw a sermon walking.’ While the church’s move to rid corruption from the society is a good sign, it is equally important that the church start to walk the talk. There are many ways churches can involve in the process of bringing clean electoral process by not favouring a candidate just because he belongs to the flock is one. Allowing the members of the congregation to exercise their free choice without direct or indirect influence from the church is another. A reporter friend told me of a big church meeting just before the MDC election. The church leaders made a special seating arrangement for all the candidates which are members of the denomination. At a certain part of the service; the priest walked to place the candidates sat and introduced them to the gathering and pray for them. No, there is nothing wrong with praying for anybody if it is done at the right place; the right time without any ulterior motive.

There are plenty that the church or civil society can do to improve the electoral system in the state, perhaps the church can also help by instructing its members not to visit the candidate’s house or ask money during election. The church and the civil society can work together and form election watch group and help publicise candidates with criminal antecedent and other information which will help voters make an informed and conscious decision when they vote. These are just few areas that faith groups and civil society can do to create an atmosphere conducive for free and fair election. The need of the hour is for the people to start doing something that will not make us live to regret the next five years and blame ourselves for not doing enough to bring change.

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