Friday, October 12, 2012

PA Sangma and new political party

Three months is a long time in the history of politics in Meghalaya. In a matter of ninety days a person can go from being an MLA to a presidential candidate and finally an ordinary citizen of the country like any of us. In three lunar cycles a founder member of a party can become a person independent and without any party affiliation to the founder of another party. In Meghalaya politics a lot can happen in a short span of time as history is made and unmade but the test of time is whether the event created in that history is going to last and create more histories or otherwise. If the change in the history is going to have a positive impact on the society then perhaps the history in the making will last; if not then the incident will become history the moment it happened.
August 24 is an important date in the history of Meghalaya, because it was the day when a major political party in the state folded its flag and merged en bloc with the new National People’s Party. The incident also saw the former NCP president W Kharlukhi taking over as the President of the Meghalaya unit of the NPP with the 12 former NCP legislators joining the new party with him. It was indeed a historical moment for the state and its people because a new party is born.
Purno A Sangma NPP national president said on the occasion that his new party will build a new India. According to Sangma’, there are altogether 46 seats reserved for tribals in the Parliament and eleven more seats from which tribal candidates always win despite those being general seats. According to Purno’s calculation, if fifty seven tribals come together then the community can have a say in national politics. He also reiterated that the party is going to be a ‘tribal centric’ party but open to all communities. Nobody can dispute the seasoned politician and an optimistic Sangma’s calculation, but the question is – Is Sangma the messiah that the tribal communities in the country have waited for so long? Will his new NPP be able to unite all the 57 tribal MPs in the country? What Sangma does not realize is that if his calculation works the margin of his defeat in the recent presidential elections would not have been so huge. At the moment, 57 is but a number that he hopes his new party will garner but the fact of the matter is that the 57 seats have already been taken by other parties. It is not going to be easy for a new party like NPP to capture those 57 seats. Tribals in the country already belong to different political parties. Take for instance the two seats in Meghalaya, NPP can definitely win one seat; the other seat has always gone with the Congress. To begin with, NPP already started with a small target and as the saying goes, one can only reach as much as one aims to achieve and not beyond. Yes, 57 is a big number in the coalition politics and the 2014 general election is obviously going to give the country a fragmented mandate and the number 57, (small as it may be) can certainly make and unmake kings and queens. But the question that begs an answer is whether the NPP even get half of the 57 it is targeting for the 2014 general elections? 57 is s jinxed number in the Khasi Pnar society. We have a song titled ‘la shet u 57’ (cheated by 57 sung by a bard to mourn his loss of money by buying the archery ticket with No 57). Hope it is not going to be the same with NPP.
Sangma has also boasted that his political career is being guided by strong principles that he holds dear to himself. These principles, he says, has seen him through many ups and downs and through the thick and thin of his political career. But what people fail to understand is what principles Purno is talking about when he allows both the MPs even his own daughter to remain with the NCP? Isn’t true that there is something wrong here? Isn’t it true that Agatha even allowed PA Sangma to use her official residence to run his show in his presidential campaign? I mean are they not complicit in this? One would expect that a principled politician like Sangma would also do well to inculcate and instill good principles in his children. But what the elder Sangma did not say is that he is also a shrewd politician and why he did not advice the two MPs to join the new party. Well, because they will then cease to be MPs under the anti defection law and there are two more years to go until the current parliament term ends. Sangma is wise enough not to risk young Agatha’s fate by asking her to join his new party. It is all about power isn’t it Mr. Sangma?
The merger of NCP state unit with NPP was made at the wrong time. It seems like it all happened too fast even for a seasoned politician like Sangma to have time to think of the consequences that the merger can have. The ill-timed and ill-planed incident has cast a pall of gloom for candidates planning to contest from NCP tickets in the forthcoming elections.. Till then they were canvassing on an NCP ticket and the clock was still their symbol; then all of a sudden they are not NCP candidates anymore. The incident has particularly upset the candidature of prospective candidates in the different constituencies, I know quite a few candidates in Jaintia hills who had earlier planned to contest on an NCP ticket but after the merger they are now in a dilemma. They cannot decide whether to stick with the NCP which is now a leaderless party or join the band wagon and contest on an NPP ticket.
The sour grapes resentment in the NCP camp has made the current leadership go all out to get their old comrades the 12 MLAs disqualified from being members of the legislative assembly under anti defection law, but everybody knows that this is not going to happen. The question is how can a thief catch a thief? The Congress led MUA will not even think of disqualifying the 12 MLAs because if they do so, they will also have to disqualify one of their own. AL Hek was elected from Pynthor Umkhrah on a BJP ticket but had defected to join the Congress without resigning his membership in the house. As for now the 12 new NPP MLAs are safe but what is going to happen to the NCP? Without the Sangmas the NCP will gradually disappear from the political scene of the state and not supporting Purno’s presidential aspiration is one move that the Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar will regret. The Sangmas still have the charisma to take their followers wherever they move; their people also faithfully follow them.
This is the second time in the recent past that PA Sangma has started a new party and it remains to be seen if Sangma’s new venture is going to be another clever political move. This time it is very crucial because unlike the political risks he took earlier, this time he is also taking his politically groomed children with him. Everybody hopes that the move Sangma has made is not for his sake but for the political prospects of his children not that I believe in dynastic politics but the junior Sangmas have a lot to contribute to the state.

Unitarian Church’s 125th Anniversary

After I presented my paper in a seminar on intellectual history at NEHU, during the question-answer session a wise professor of the history department asked me, “Where do Unitarian’s trace their origin? Or what is the origin of the Unitarian Church? As a matter of fact it was not a question I had expected but no doubt an interesting one.
One of my favourite books is also a New York Times best seller titled ‘The history of God,’ by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong a renowned scholar of the history of religions said in her book that her study of religions has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. There is a uniqueness about humans in that they experience the sense of wonder and awe and they demonstrate this in their work of art and religions. In fact Karen observed that humans started using religion and art round about the same time that they developed their faculty to appreciate the beauty and wonder around them. Since then, humans started to use both art and religion as tools to attempt to find meaning and value in life. When humans started to experience this awe they started to worship one God much before they worshipped numerous gods and goddesses.
Armstrong also mentioned that Father Wilhelm Schmidt had suggested in his book ‘The origin of the idea of God,’ that there had been a primitive monotheism before men and women started to worship a number of gods. This God is a supreme deity, creator of heaven and earth and he governs all human affairs. He is also known as high God or Sky God who watches over humans and punishes wrong doers. As time passed this Sky God gave way to the worshipping of many gods and this is seen even among the Pnars of Jaintia Hills. The celebration of Behdienkhlam is one such example. The festival is celebrated for 4 days and three nights when the Creator is believed to descend to the earth to be with human beings.
Gradually people started to personify the unseen force like the wind, the sun, the sea, the stars, thunder etc and gave them human characteristics and worshipped them. In Jaintia hills u Pyrthat (the thunder god) is worshipped along with the gods and goddesses believed to dwell in nature. People started to pay obeisance to the spirit they believe dwells in nature and natural phenomenon like rivers, falls, hills and mountains etc. In the Paleolithic period when agriculture developed people started to realize the importance of fertility of the land they depended on for their livelihood so they began to worship the god of fertility or the mother goddess. Interestingly this goddess is represented by the image of a naked, pregnant woman in Europe, Middle East and India.
Later on, in the Judeo-Christian context the call to worship one God began with the Patriarch Abraham worshipping one God he calls El Shaddai. He was followed by Moses who liberated his people from Egypt with the help of the one God he called Yahweh and Moses insisted that God can only be called by one name and that is Yahweh.
Later, Jesus Christ came with his teaching to love God and to love one’s neighbours. These are the two most important commandments he said. He also preached of a loving God who he called Father in heaven, hence the Unitarian considers Jesus as the greatest of the teachers who taught people to worship one God.
History has it that three hundred and twenty years after Jesus died, the early Christians were divided in their beliefs as they were separated in the places where they were located from Egypt to Syria and Asia Minor. They had no common doctrine. Evidences are available that different churches even used different gospels, till the book was canonized. A section of the church under the leadership of a young presbyter of Alexandria by the name of Arius led a movement of a group of the early Christians who believed that Jesus is not of the same substance with God. Arius’ question which bishop Alexander realized he cannot ignore is ‘how can Jesus be God in the same way as God the Father?’ Arius did not deny the divinity of Christ but insisted that the Father was greater than He. Armstrong mentioned in her book that the idea was put to music and the issue was discussed like the people would discuss football today. It was also informed that the controversy reached such a height that emperor Constantine himself had to intervene and summoned a synod in Nicaea only to realize that the churches do not have an official position on the issue raised by Arius and more importantly even Origen held a similar doctrine. The prominent member of the group who were of the view contrary to that of Arius was Athanasius. History also has it that on the May 22, 325 AD, when the bishops gathered at Nicaea majority of the bishops held a view midway between that of Athanasius and Arius. But the debate was finally closed with Athanasius able to get the support of the emperor and only Arius and two of his companions refused to sign the creed. The creed which says: ‘We believe in one God… and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God… and we believe in the Holy Spirit.’ Though the creed signed and adopted in Nicaea but it is not the Nicene Creed per-se. The Nicene Creed was only adopted in the year 381 at the Council in Constantinople.
In Europe Unitarians also trace their origin to Michael Servetus (1510-53) who wrote the book Errors of the Trinity in the year 1531. Servetus was burned at the stakes in Geneva ironically by the reformers in Geneva in the year 1553. It was a preacher in Transylvania which is now part of Romania who first used the word ‘Unitaria’ to describe the people who rejected Trinity and believed in one God. In the year 1566 Francis David preached against the doctrine of Trinity and was able to convince the king of Transylvania, John Sigismund to adopt Unitarianism. John Sigismund was also the first king to adopt a kind of religious toleration when he proclaimed the law allowing freedom of religious beliefs in his country in the year 1568 which is known as ‘Diet of Torda’. To cut the long history short, Unitarian churches then began to emerge in many countries like England, USA etc.
In India the first Unitarian Church was started by a low caste Tamil Hindu Moodelliar Vellagha who on becoming Unitarian changed his name to William Robert. He came in contact with the British Unitarian in the year 1816 but it was in December 19, 1813 that he started the Unitarian Christian Church in Madras. In Khasi Jaintia Hills and Mikir hills (now Karbi Anglong District of Assam) a Khasi person by the name of Hajom Kissor Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri and three of his followers, ka Hirbon Lakadong, u Kat Shylla and u Mar Sutnga founded the Unitarian faith in Jowai on September 18, 1887. The story of H.K.Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri’s tryst with Unitarianism is also similar to the experiences that his predecessors like Arius and William Roberts experienced. H.K.Singh was not comfortable with his beliefs and this made him question the Trinity. His personal understanding is that there is only one God, whom Jesus called father in heaven and who the Khasi Pnar called U Blei Nongbuh Nongthaw. He later came into contact with Unitarianism and decided that he had found his spiritual home and committed himself to the propagation of Unitarianism in the region.
H.K.Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri believed that monotheism was a marriage of the Father in Heaven whom Jesus worshipped and later taught his disciples to pray to (in the Lord’s prayer) and the Creator God of the Khasi Pnar. He even went a step further and called God our father and mother. The history of Unitarian church is therefore the story of humans experiencing the one God which differs from one culture to another and the one God which humans have worshipped since the dawn of human existence.

Crash course in animal behaviour

I always envy people who live in the village; their lives seem simple, easy and at peace with everything around them and not difficult and complex as life in the towns and the cities. In fact it was out of this love for country life that I decided as a young boy on the course of my future life and chose the profession I love so much. I opted to be a minister in a church, because it involved visiting the churches in the different villages. I enjoy the pleasant breeze in the green open fields. I also love to watch the clear pristine waters that flow from the rivulets to the roaring river down below. For me the drive down the calm and traffic-less narrow road in the countryside is a spiritual exercise in itself. It is an opportunity to enjoy nature in all its grandeur, a hassle free drive where I can park anywhere I like and be overwhelmed by the splendoor of the green environment around.
Of all my visits to many villages in these beautiful Khasi Jaintia hills of Meghalaya, this one visit was the most memorable. Ksehrynchang is another beautiful village on the important road which connects Jowai in Meghalaya with Khainduli and Hamren in the state of Assam. I used to shuttle to and from Jowai to Ksehrynchang every now and then to perform my pastoral duties. It so happened that on one particular visit to the village I had to stay overnight to complete my pastoral duty the next day. I arrived in the evening just before dark and the night was indeed a magnificent moonless and cloudless night. I spent some time out of doors in the cold dry night sitting on a bamboo stool to enjoy the darkness which was illuminated by the light from the stars in the sky. The soft light from the starry sky dimly lit the nature around me. Even though it was mid December, the needle-leaves on the pine trees still looked fresh and green, the pristine water of the Mynriang river sparkled while it flowed on its course to join the Myntang river. When I looked around the open outfields surrounded by hills they looked so beautiful, everything was black and white, and I took beautiful black and white snap shots of the wonderful night with my mind’s eye.
I thought village life is simple and that I know almost everything that I need to know about living in the countryside. I was woken up by the mooing of a mother cow calling its calf which had somehow deserted her mother during the day. It was the onset of the post harvest season in the area and by tradition, after harvest farmers are allowed to let their animals loose in a tradition called “Dat-rai” in Jaintia hills and “pynlait-lan” in the Khasi hills. During this time of the year animals are allowed to roam freely without anyone tending to them. It is the only time of the year when the cowherds and goat- herds are given a holiday. The animals (cattle and goats in particular) will be shepherded back in spring before the sowing season.
The next morning was cold and crispy. I hesitatingly unchained my sleeping bag and got out up of bed and walked out of my host’s home, raised my hands and stretched them high to greet the rising sun. While standing on the portico of the house, I looked for a place nearby with patches of wood in it. I noticed a small hill nearby with plenty of standing pine trees and walked towards the hill to answer to nature’s call. On reaching the hill I noticed a herd of cows grazing in the frosty morning. I walked on the path and a young bull threatened me, lowering his head as if to hit me down. I shouted at the bull, which from the way it was blowing air from its nose, seemed to be in rage. I shouted at it again and we somehow avoided confronting each other. I continued to walk and went to finish my chore. I walked the same path again to return to the house where I was put up for the night. Not suspecting anything from the noble herds of animals, I heard the cows mowing but it meant nothing to me. I kept walking my way through the stranded herd of cows. Then all of a sudden a young bull which had threatened me earlier attacked me from the back and hit me on my right abdomen. I fell on the ground with my head still high becoming an easy target for another attack by the raging bull.
The second attack hit me on my right face near my right eye; the attack was so powerful that with a big thud I saw darkness and lost consciousness. Even after I fell on the ground, the furious bull was not finished with me; it went on hitting me and made me conscious again. While hitting me, it also made an angry call, which was answered by the mother cow nearby. The cow too joined forces with the bull to merciless attack me and fix me on the pine tree nearby. It was only by Gods grace that Khlanhiwot and Beitlang who accompanied me on the trip were close by. They, being villagers, understood the unusual call of the cows, went to see what happened and when they saw me being hit time and again mercilessly by the two cows, Khlan tried to shoo the cow away; but the cow paid no heed. He then took a long stick and started hitting the attacking cow to save me from the animals. Finally the bull and cow finally left me alone with bruises and pain all over my body. Khlan and Beitlang helped me on my feet and walked me down to the house. They told me I was lucky that it was the young bull which attacked me, because its horns are still too small to do any serious damage. When I reached the house I told them innocently that I always assumed that the cows are harmless animals. Then I asked them why it attacked me. They said it was because I was too close to the mother cow which had a baby calf. I was advised not to walk near the mother cow anymore. Thank goodness, my ribs are intact and I only had bruises on my face, but it would have been different if it had been an adult bull with full grown horns that attacked me.
Of course I also learned another lesson, but I learned the lesson the hard way. I call the incident a crash course on cow behaviour not because it is short but because it came crashing on me all of a sudden. I also learned another lesson and that is never to assume that village life is simple. It is in fact very complex and includes among other things, to know and predict the behavior of animals and the life cycle of different plants.

Money – name of the game during election

There you have it, this is from the horse’s mouth and a statement from no less than the President of the Congress party who said that he was offered a bribe of 10 to 20 crore (or 1 million to two million) rupees by aspiring candidates who are desperate to contest on a Congress party ticket from a certain constituency in the ensuing election. It is therefore no longer just media report or columnists’ comments which allege that huge amounts of money change hands during elections. Although the MPCC President retracted his statement the next day, blaming the media for misquoting him or quoting him out of context, everybody knows that the President was caught on the wrong foot. When he realized his mistake he blamed others for it. He will have a lot of convincing to do, to get people agree that the blame lies entirely with the media.
The statement made by MPCC President (subsequently denied) has only exposed the rot that is not only in the Congress but in all the political parties and the entire electoral system that we have. But the question is why now? Why the two individuals from the Jaintia hills district were singled out? Surely many candidates too must have offered the party money to be allotted a party ticket even in the past. There must be a reason why the President chose to make the statement now. The important point of discussion is not what the President of the MPCC has allegedly stated but what he didn’t say. Is the Congress party fed up with the money bags from the Jaintia hills? Have the two business tycoons who are still very much with the Congress gradually lost their influence in the party? Both the individuals have been with the Congress through trials and tribulations and one of them was even caught with huge amounts of money during the last bye election to the Umroi constituency. The Umroi bye-election was a turning point not only for a Government employed technocrat to jump into politics and win the election to the Lok Sabha, but it was also a turning point for Ngaitlang Dhar a businessman with no education, to decide to take the plunge into state politics. Much water has flowed down the river since then and coal mining lobby, seems be gradually losing its grip on the string of power in the state, and the question is, have they been replaced by the cement lobby now?
The other important point must be seen on a positive light and the question is, can we say that the Congress is also fed up with candidates with less or no formal education? The two individuals named in the report are rich businessmen but with little or no education, one especially with no formal education whatsoever and the other has barely completed his lower primary school. The other question is whether the Congress is trying to nip in the bud the dynastic politics that the two are trying to start? Nehlang is vacating Rymbai for his nephew Justine Lyngdoh and Ngaitlang Dhar is the elder brother of the present MLA who is contesting from Nartiang constituency in the 2013 election. The development has only proved what was mentioned in this column a few months ago that Jaintia hills will have more than 7 MLAs after the next election; we already have 3 names from Ribhoi District Nehlang, Ngeitlang and now Barnabas Nangbah. They are all from (the undivided) Jaintia hills. Whoever plays this game has his cards very close to his chest and if he has his way, then Meghalaya will be under his thumb. But it is for the people to decide. Then again with money playing a major role in the election, one doubts if the next election is going bring any change for the state.
As long as elections are decided by the amount of money the candidate can spend, what change can really one expect? The election rules of the Election Commission have no meaning at all; they only operate after the announcement of the election. It is meaningless because the rules operate in a very limited period of less than a month whereas candidates have already started spending money one year or even earlier before the election. Candidates not only spend money to buy party tickets, they also make sure they have the best orator in the area to canvas for them and headmen (especially in the villages) are being taken care of much before the election. Hence the election rules which permit a candidate to spend only 5 lakhs in the election is a farce. A lot of money has already changed hands by the time the election code of conduct is made operational. Money has been spent in providing schemes for the villages, NGOs and even churches make hay while the sun shines to get as much benefit from the MLA as possible. This comes in the form of schemes for the church run schools, providing chairs, cooking utensils for the women groups, music and PA system for the church and even grants for construction of the church buildings (yes this happen in a secular state) and even roads connecting to the churches before the synod .
The blame for the increasing influence of money power during the election is because of the MLA and MP Local Area Development Schemes. Almost every MLA or MP keeps it till the eleventh hour to distribute their respective Local Area Development Schemes. This is a clever ploy to influence people and the ulterior motive is to use the MLA-LADS to buy votes for the MLA for his re-election. The scheme is used but for MLAs’ own selfish gain. The scheme (which is a tax payers’ money) is not being used as it was literarily meant to be which is for local area development. Because MLAs use the MLA-LADS with ulterior motives and at the last minute, the opposing candidates too have no other options but to compete with the MLAs in distributing freebies. The candidates too are seen involved in distributing utensils, plastics chairs etc. to the people, NGOs, Youths clubs and even churches and thereby starts the cycle of corruption even before they become politicians. One is surprised to see that even former student leaders who are now in the election fray for the first time providing heavy machines for tilling play grounds for the village. The question is where did the money come from?
The MLA-LADS/MP-LADS is squarely to be blamed for the deteriorating kind of election that we have in which money dictates and decides which candidate wins. Because of the MLA scheme people are not discussing what change the MLA has brought to the constituency or what new policy has he helped frame for the betterment of the state as a whole, but people are now talking about how much money the MLA gave for ‘our locality’, ‘our Youth Clubs’ and church related activities. Voters are no longer debating about the development that the MLA is able to bring to the constituency, but money is the sole criteria of deciding how good or how bad the candidates is.
Until and unless the Local Area Development Scheme is done away with, this will continue and we will still have elections where money power will play a major role in the elections. MLA scheme must be done away with because it is unfair to the opposing candidates. The sitting MLA already has an upper hand against the opposing candidates and it does not allow a level playing field for all the candidates.
In conclusion we must thank the president of the MPCC for opening the can of worms that is the election process in the state. One really finds it difficult to calculate and contemplate how much it really costs to be a candidate to contest an election? If one has to shell out 10 to 20 crore just for the party ticket; then your guess is as good as mine on how much it costs to contest an election. The state will therefore never have young, bright and educated candidates contesting the election because a lot of money is at stake and, serious candidates will not find the prospect of being MLA attractive since ultimately they will not be gauged by development and the policies they help bring about but solely by the money they spend.