Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Government Functions or Campaign Platforms

With the general election to the state assembly around the corner, it is not surprising to see reports in the newspapers that the MLAs of the MUA coalition partner and ministers in particular going gung-ho to woo voters. Unlike the current MLAs who are also candidates at the same time, the non-MLA candidates do not have the advantage of leveraging power and position which the perks of office of sitting MLAs afford them. Not surprisingly, the ruling party MLAs and ministers in particular are taking undue advantage of their power and position in their efforts to woo voters to their side.
There were reports that minister are trying to entice voters by merely distributing mosquito nets to their potential voters. Come summer, and mosquito nets are no doubt necessary to protect poor citizens from the blood sucking insects, but people also need food, shelter and livelihoods. More importantly what people need during these few months before the election is protection from being subjected to wrongful allurement for short term gains. In other words poor citizens need protection from being exploited by the candidates and especially by those in power. Then certain minister also promised to provide monetary reward to party functionaries of a polling station that can bring the MLA the maximum numbers of votes in the next election. Now is this legal? I don’t know. Are there no election rules that forbid sharing information of voters’ preference in the polling station? Suppose the information reaches a vindictive MLA, what will be the future of the people who did not vote for him?
Of course it is not against the law to encourage party workers to get as much votes as they can for the minister, but the question is where will the money for the reward come from? Is there a new scheme in the MUA government for rewarding polling stations which can give the highest numbers of votes for the minister? Can any MLA use the MLA constituency development scheme to reward party functionaries of a particular polling station for being able to get maximum number of votes for the MLA?
Then there are cases where minister cannot even make a distinction between government functions and campaign platforms. Ministers were found to have misused government function (particularly in the rural areas) to canvas for votes on their own behalf. The particular minister on the pretext of inaugurating the project the department he is in charge of said that this is just the beginning. He called on the voters to elect him and promised the crowd that more goodies will come their way if and only if he is voted to power. Even if there is no prohibition in the rule book against using government functions as campaign platforms, yet one would expect a minister to be able to distinguish between the two and not abuse his power and office.
Talking about the MLA constituency development scheme, this is the first time that the election in the state is going to be conducted in the new constituencies; villages were added to or deleted from the reorganized constituencies. The tricky question is, can the MLA allot current MLA schemes to villages newly incorporated to his or her constituency? Or can the MLA deny MLA development schemes to the areas which were part of the old constituency (2008-2013) but is not part of the new reorganized constituency anymore? This is a pertinent question. Can the people take the MLA to court if delimitated villages which were part of the MLA erstwhile constituency were denied their rights to the 2008-2013 MLA constituency development schemes?
Charity and Politics do not mix
This writer has predicted that the numbers of less educated but rich candidates will increase in the ensuing election and this is happening especially in Jaintia hills. There are candidates with big bank balances and they do not need MLA schemes to contest elections. On a certain day last week almost all vernacular papers reported about a certain candidate who constructed a road to a certain village and claimed that he did it not to woo voters. It was reported that the candidate (notwithstanding the fact he already announced his intention to contest from the constituency) goes on to say that he did it because he wished to reciprocate the blessings that God has generously bestowed on him. Now first of all, I do not subscribe to the idea that being rich is a blessing from God. God only knows how the wealth was accumulated in the first place. I would not drag God into this and if we go by this justification, does that mean God does not bless poor people, hence they remain poor forever? Everybody knows that the person we are talking about is a classic rags to riches story from Jaintia hills. He started as a shepherd and went on to become one of the richest man in the state. But to call the wealth that he has amassed as God’s blessings is a little over the top. Are we hearing somebody say that even God is on his side? We live in the world where rich people can say anything and get away with it.
If the candidate’s generosity has nothing to do with that of him being a candidate, then why build a road to a village which falls under the constituency from where he intends to contest? There are thousands of other villages in the state which desperately needs roads, why are those villages not considered? As the saying goes, ‘Charity begins at home.’ There are many villages in Jaintia hills in need of roads. Why has the aspirant MLA not considered those?
If a rich man really wishes to share his wealth, he does not need to be an MLA to do that. He could just institute a trust and start sharing one’s wealth with ‘the children of lesser gods!’ There are examples of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and Warren Buffet who shared their wealth by starting philanthropic foundations. But have never contested any election. We also have examples of rich people in Meghalaya who have given back to the community without expecting anything in return. It reminds me of the story of a Presbyterian church pastor who had to make his visitation riding on a horse because there were no roads in the area. This was telecast by a particular electronic media. A few months later the same media carried a story of a road being made to the village and it was constructed free of cost by Bah Honsen Lyngdoh. Bah Honsen said that he was moved by the story and he did not even campaign for any candidate in the area in lieu of his generosity.
Nowadays rich people in Meghalaya wish to contest elections because they want to get richer. They see being in power as the way to acquire more wealth and by being MLA they can also enjoy the status of a VIP/public representative that wealth cannot provide no matter how thick their bank balance. In Khasi hills they call this allurement for power – “light saw” (red light) and in Jaintia hills they call it “chyrtong syiar,” (the cockscomb or crest)
People must be able to separate the rice from the chaff because we all know that the future of the State and more importantly the future of our children depends on the person we vote to power every five years.
(The writer is an independent researcher and an environmental activist)

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