Battle Begins

The ugly political battle has started ahead of the Meghalaya assembly elections slated next year. Despite its repeated claims that the ‘party is united’, it is for everyone to see that the Congress is not in order. Dropping of senior minister like Prestone Tynsong from the cabinet does not happen with a small fire, but an inferno, in the grand old party. Tynsong and Sniawbhalang Dhar have been in the news for their alleged move to abandon the Congress boat in the 2018 polls. The long they would be kept in the cabinet, the loyal troupe of chief minister Mukul Sangma will get more offended. When ‘everyone knows the duo would abandon the party’, what is the need for continuing the priviledge of a minister.

Tynsong and Dhar knew it was coming, and remained undeterred. But, as a shrewd politician, Tynsong said he will remain a Congress MLA and that his party’s goal for next year should be to cross the half-way mark. If not anything, politicians must have the capacity to tell this lie. Today, if he says he is leaving the Congress, his status of being an MLA will come under question. All his priviledges will be questioned. He will be strained to milk the government cow till the last droplet, before the election. After all, there is a lot more schemes still in his kitty to be delivered among his constituency people as pre-poll bonus.

While Congress is battling to save its rocking boat in the state, after ruling it for seven years, while the NP) is in the hunt for disgruntled Congress MLAs to be brought to its fold. In alliance, UDP and HSPDP would be looking to erode into Congress vote bank, but not MLAs as such. Attraction for the Congress dissidents towards NPP has been the latter’s strong hold at the Centre as well as in the state. Apart from Congress, no other party has this advantage. Not even the BJP, yet. It needs to be analysed what would be the saffron party’s game plan in view of the increased closeness between Congress’ disgruntled elements and the NPP.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on August 5, 2017)

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Battle over Patel

Ahmed Patel is not a popular leader. Common people of the country do not know him. Even for average news conscious people, he is just a senior Congress leader, who is hardly found speaking before the media, least in public gatherings. But, in political circles, his value in Congress is highly valued. He is known to be one of the strongest pillars of the grand old party. His position of political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi speaks volume of his importance in the party. No doubt, BJP wants his scalp. If the ruling party can prevent Patel this time from coming to the Rajya Sabha, it will be a huge defeat for the Congress. His defeat will be almost equivalent to the Congress losing a state, which is no more a big surprise now. Plus his morale will be down affecting the policy making and decision making in the party.

The way BJP went all guns blazing to stop Patel’s boat by effecting erosion in Gujarat Congress – 6 Congress MLAs switched sides to the saffron brigade in two days – the Sonia side too surprised by flying away the 44 remaining MLAs all the way to Karnataka, one of the last 3 major states currently ruled by the party. The Congress did not think of the public impression about the political move of hoarding MLAs, as if the party does not have the faith on its own MLAs. The party wants to suggest that its MLAs are prone to lure of cash and kind, which is allegedly being offered by the BJP in great volume. This type of act is no exception to any party in times of political instability. But it sends a very ugly message to public, who can read through the act. Saying BJP to did it in the past can no more justify keeping 44 MLAs in a resort for an uncertain period at a time when lakhs of people back their constituencies are still suffering from the flood trauma.

However, the BJP allegedly played the ultimate card, to put the Congress in further shame. The income tax raid on the house of the Karnataka energy minister DK Shivakumar and recovery of over Rs 11 crore in cash from multiple premises linked to him has put the party into further embarrassment. More suicidal for the party was storming the well of the Rajya Sabha in protest against the action against the Karnataka minister. BJP is not winning elections, but also one after another political games against the Congress, which is currently burdened by the legacy of Gandhi family.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on August 4, 2017)

Fear of Outsiders

The perennial fear of being overwhelmed by ‘outsiders’ has gripped Meghalaya again. With state elections barely a few months away, the various pressure groups have upped the ante over lack of mechanism to check influx. A few groups are also demanding inner line permit (ILP), a demand kept under suspension by 13 NGOs expecting a ‘comprehensive mechanism’ as promised by the government to contain influx. Some say the movement is politically motivated. But the public support toward it cannot be overruled. The pressure groups, in fact, represent the public sentiment. And the public sentiment originates in the growing number of outsiders coming into the state as professionals, labourers, and also tourists. The land of Khasi-Jaintia and Garo people is seeing more and more outsiders every day. Is it a cause of worry?

No land except some in Andaman and Amazon has been spared by outsiders. In today’s Meghalaya, there is a lot of contribution from outsiders, right from the British administrators, missionaries and officials and workers from rest of India. The fact is that every city in the globe is being frequented by more and more outsiders. This is globalisation. Is there an escape route? The question is also whether we should escape this global onslaught? The worry about outsiders is not without any base as locals are seeing outsiders doing well, in business and jobs, in their mother land. However, they have the protection of Land Transfer Act which does not allow any non-indigenous person to own land in most parts of the state, meaning there is no threat of land grabbing. Also, there is 85 per cent job reservation for the indigenous people.

Market force and communication network primarily determine the movement and migration of people from one place to another. Firstly, there has to be a need for movement and secondly the means to go. The bountiful Khasi-Jaintia Hills being strategically located near Guwahati, the commercial hub of seven NE states, attracts lakhs of tourists from outside the state. The new four-lane highway has increased the tourist flow manifold. What followed is mushrooming of homestays, resorts, roadside eateries, new tourist spots and growth of other allied services. Can this be ignored? Or do we say the tourists are welcome but not the small time labourers. They too come for a demand – may be they work for less compared to indigenous workers. This is sheer market force. The government cannot compel the indigenous entrepreneurs to employ only indigenous workers, which may not be feasible for the former.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 29, 2017)

Kalam Footstep

Great names are cherished in their respective areas of influence. Then there are world leaders adored across the globe, more or less. APJ Abdul Kalam is such a name. He was the most inspiring President the country has ever seen. But has the country been able to walk on his footsteps? There are only a few instances. One of them is the Kalam memorial inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his second death anniversary. The nine months taken for construction of the Rs 120-crore memorial was a great tribute to the legend, who always stuck to deadlines during his professional career as scientists.

Kalam has spoken many inspiring and memorable lines to be followed and also set many examples to be replicated. But as usual, in case of any great names, Kalam’s ideals are also hardly followed. In one function, the video of which has several lakhs of ‘views’, Kalam is seen refusing a specially designed chair for him and sitting on one of those kept for other guests there. Kalam is adored for it, by everyone, but how many have the guts to refuse a special treatment! Similar arrangement, which is nothing unusual, was made for the chief guest at a Kalam memorial lecture in Shillong where he breathed last. Can the policy makers do something to ensure arrangement similar chairs for everyone in any function? The red cushioned chairs with silver frame designed for governors and chief ministers in functions still remind us of the days of British dominion.

The guest in the Shillong function Padma Vibhushan and former ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair had no objection! It’s too small a thing for him to notice and also might not have wanted to upset the whole proceeding. He delivered a thought provoking lecture and reminisced his association with Kalam. He narrated how Kalam took the first blame for the PSLV rocket failure in 1979 while he stood on the fringe while giving credit to the rest of the team for the success of the rocket the very next year. Nair also said ISRO is following the ideals set by Kalam. But this nation of 1.3 billion needs more doing the good work rather than saying them.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 28, 2017)

Deprivation of ‘Generals’

Article 14 of the Constitution says that state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Article 16 says that there shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state. These two provisions of the Constitution were the basis of a Meghalaya High Court order against appointment irregularities in some lower grade posts in the Prisons department of the state. The court asked the state government to correct the anomalies in the particular case and also “left it” to the Central and state governments to review the reservation policy while upholding provisions of Article 14 and Article 16. In the particular case, the department did not follow any reservation pattern and appointed all reserved category candidates even as the aggrieved general category candidates scored higher marks.

Meghalaya follows a 40 (Khasi-Jaintia) : 40 (Garo) : 5 (Other tribes) : 15 (general) reservation pattern in appointments in government departments. The ratio is as per the population pattern in the state. But what has happened in many government recruitments is that general category candidates are almost overlooked in favour of tribal candidates, even at the cost of efficiency required for the posts.

If there is discrimination of minorities in the rest of India, the North-east has a reverse scenario. Here too there is discrimination of ‘minorities’, but of those people who allegedly discriminate others in the mainland India! The minorities, although they are not called so, are the people who fall in the general category. If it was wrong was committed once by discriminating tribals of North-east, it cannot be corrected by committing another wrong. What the high court observed that there cannot be 100 per cent reservation shall pass a strong message to the tribal-dominated hill states of the region. The court’s suggestion to review the reservation policy may not have any takers for now, thanks to more political reasons than real ones, but it can be termed futuristic. More and more people are questioning why an effluent tribal needs reservation, and an efficient but poor candidate is deprived just because he or she is born to parents belonging to non-reserved castes?

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 21, 2017)

Political Gain in Non-Political Race

Former Bihar governor and a BJP member for nearly three decades Ram Nath Kovind has become India’s 14th President, helping the RSS and the BJP shed its anti-Dalit image further. The party’s resounding victory in this year’s Uttar Pradesh assembly election has already established its increasing grip over the Dalits (SCs) and the other backward class (OBC) which constitute over 60 per cent of the voters in the country’s most populous state. But with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s this master stroke of selecting Kovind, the former chief of BJP’s Dalit Morcha, the saffron party has made more inroads into the ‘backward’ communities. No wonder, Mayawati, who is nervous about losing sheen in her core constituency, resigned from the Rajya Sabha to pass on the most obvious message.

The BJP’s Dalit card played on a non-controversial person paid off very well. Kovind obtained 65.65 percent of votes from the electoral college while the joint Opposition candidate and former Lok Sanba Speaker Meira Kumar polled 34.35 percent only. His victory was a foregone conclusion because almost 40 parties, including many from outside the NDA fold, pledged to support him. AIADMK, YSR Congress, BJD, TRS, INLD and JD(U) are among the parties outside the NDA fold, who supported Kovind. The JD(U) led by Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar even took the gamble of going against its ‘grand alliance’ partners, Congress and Lalu Prasad’s RJD. The Opposition lost the game to its delay in announcing the candidate. While its loss was almost imminent, the Opposition parties could have at least been spared of the criticism of playing the same card. Playing the same Dalit card, by fielding Meira Kumar against Kovind, and then the race is kind of a double whammy. A consensus for Kovind would have spared them of one! The ‘fight’ led by Congress and supported by NCP, SP, BSP, AAP, RJD, AITC, DMK, NC and Communities parties among others came to a naught.

With Ram Nath Kovind soon going to be the resident of Raisina Hill, there will be the least space to discuss the political gain and loss in this race. The office of President is non-political and the parties across the benches have to respect it, as being done by every dispensation irrespective of with which side’s support the current President had won the race. After President APJ Abdul Kalam had added the aura to the country’s highest office, the expectation of the nation has gone up. Will Kovind be able to live up to it remains to be seen.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 21, 2017)

Cleaning Ministry

To see a Swachh Bharat, it’s too early to depend on ‘public conscience’. Narendra Modi may have emerged as an undisputed leader of the nation, but his call to Swachh Bharat still has very few takers. The message of having a clean India has hardly gone into the veins of those who discard any criticism of the prime minister as “anti-national”. It is Modi’s (ultra?) nationalistic attitude, but not his call for a responsible nation, that has caught the public imagination. It’s simpler to be a hard core nationalist, but harder to act responsibly for the nation. After all the term ‘Dirty Indians’ was not born overnight.

The government’s struggle to push Swachh Bharat campaign is evident from its National Green Tribunal’s order that Rs 50,000 would be imposed for dumping garbage on Ganga, the holiest river on earth. Successive governments tried different measures to clean Ganga, the one by Narendra Modi gaining most public attention. But, the change of mindset – most wanted by the Prime Minister – is not visible. Very few of us do not feel any pain in throwing plastic wrappers on the streets. They finally go into the drains, clog them, and cause artificial floods. And we waste no time to bombard the government with criticism for ‘inaction’ to mitigate urban floods. Public responsibility, at least on cleanliness, is hard to come by.

The government is spending a lot of money for sanitation and cleanliness. The money is used in campaign, cleaning, manpower and establishment costs. Every Central government offices have been told to conduct Swachh Bharat campaigns. These steps are necessary, but not enough. What is needed is a dedicated Cleaning department. Creating a department may look extravagant as there are town committees and municipalities to look into cleanliness. But we have to keep in mind that these bodies are not everywhere. There is no organised system of waste disposal in hundreds of thousands of India’s villages. Thanks to consumerism, villages too generate huge amount of plastic wastes, absence of such mechanism may spell environment doom in the coming years. The situation would be uncontrollable then. Hence, a dedicated Central ministry and state departments are required to take care of even a small piece of plastic wrapper in the remotest part of the country.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 15, 2017)

Govt and Politics

It is hard to distinguish between politics and government. We tend to feel the government means the ruling party and vice versa. Does it mean all the people in the government are in the ruling party? Whereas the politicians in positions of government like ministers can be called the government, officials are not. Even ministers are not supposed to take party line while delivering duties as a minister. That’s why we see a drastic change in speech of a matured politician in political meetings and government programmes. That’s how it should be. But most politicians in government are too naive to guard their political identity. So they cannot take offence at the public perception about politicians in ruling party and the government. Bihar deputy chief minister Tejashwi Yadav is more seen as an RJD leader – and rather son of Lalu Prasad – especially after reports of his involvement in dubious land deal. The party image is more clear because of the apparent hazy government position on the matter and RJD’s strong defence for the Lalu scion.

In Meghalaya, a nominated IAS official is making headlines because of his involvement in politics, caught on camera. Himalaya M Shangpliang is allegedly a blue-eyed boy of the chief minister, holding several posts – Director of Social Welfare Department, Secretary of General Administration Department (GAD), Secretary to the Chief Adviser to the Government and Mission Director, National Health Mission and Meghalaya Health Insurance Scheme. He was the former director of the Information and Public Relations department, till before his nomination as an IAS officer. Skeptics say it needs a lot of clout to be a nominated IAS cadre, power of which is vested on the state government unlike the direct cadres, who come through rigorous and multiple testing process at much younger age. The question here is not the credibility of a nominated IAS officer, but his participation in a political party meeting. In a sting video, he was seen addressing a Congress meeting and praising the party. Shangpliang’s intention to contest the next year’s assembly election on a Congress ticket was already the talk of the town. There was criticism as well on how he has been using his office for his political gain. But with the alleged blessing of chief minister Mukul Sangma and his party, he was enjoying all the privileges of being a bureaucrat and at the same time preparing for elections, till the video was out. It now remains to be seen as to how the Congress-led government saves its face in dealing with the complaints from activists seeking stern action against the bureaucrat.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 14, 2017)

Healthier India

Dynamics of health care is changing rapidly. It’s getting more and more market driven and technology dependent, not to mention about the skyrocketing cost. Intensive care unit (ICU) has become a common destination for most hospital-going patient. Skeptics say the reason is the hospital’s intention to make most of the patient’s pocket. It is said the hospital can make out how deep the patient’s pocket is! Hospitals are rated more as per its ‘services’ rather than the treatment. It’s no more about the medicines and injections, which was the case a few decades ago, only. Along with these changes, insurance is also turning out to be a key factor in health care.

Whereas there is no room for debate on the need for health insurance for everyone, especially for the poor in country like India, what can be put into scanner is the hospital’s apparent tendency of giving ‘special care’ to such patients. In such cases, the hospital gets ‘assured’ about the payment. The patient’s relatives won’t say at the end of the treatment that they don’t have enough money to foot the bill, a common case among poor and middle class patients in India. Thus insurance also brought a huge succour to the millions of families, who otherwise would have landed up in deep crisis in case of any serious health emergency.

Health insurance is not yet popular in India, partly due to lack of awareness but mainly due to the relatively substantial premium amount for poor and middle class families. People are not ready to pay Rs 3000 or something, which is the minimum amount, annually ‘without any visible return’. They think the money would go waste if there is no hospitalisation! However, to the huge relief for millions of Indians the government has introduced hugely subsidised insurance. Under such schemes, a person can get a health cover of Rs 2 lakh for a bare minimum premium of Rs 100. Health smart cards are being issued at people’s doorstep in states like Assam. Meghalaya Health Insurance Scheme (MHIS) has already entered its phase II. With this, the number of population under health insurance cover in India is going to rise phenomenally, if not all of them, very soon. Having health insurance cover and free education is the sign of any developed nation. We are heading towards a healthier India.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 8, 2017)

Inner Voice

NDA nominee for Presidential polls Ram Nath Kovind will not urge the MLAs to listen to their ‘inner voice’. He doesn’t have to, unlike Meira Kumar. The Opposition candidate and former Lok Sabha Speaker had no option but had to bank on ‘inner voice’. It’s evident, she doesn’t have the numbers. When asked the question about numbers, she recently lost temper and shot back at the reporter – Should I withdraw because I don’t have enough numbers to win the poll? Right from the beginning of her campaign, she has been bombarded with this question of numbers. So, now she chose to make an appeal to the ‘inner voice’. This is all right as per rules – if there is any – of politics. Thousands of candidates lose their security deposits in Indian elections every five year. Most of them know their fate, yet they join the race.

Language of contesting politicians changes according to their chances of winning. Ram Nath Kovind has already taken a moral high ground by saying that ‘President’s post is above party politics’. Given his strong likelihood of being the resident of Raisina Hill in a few days, he can afford to say that. Being the candidate of the ruling party, which has already completed three years, he need not criticise anyone. Also a shrewd politician, Kovind won’t make the mistake of taking on any dispensation directly, as Meira Kumar did by worrying over the ‘present atmosphere threatening the secular fabric’ of the country. In his campaign among MLAs of Meghalaya, Kovind will perhaps urge them to be part by the present government’s ‘bold and sincere’ efforts in taking India to greater heights or become a world superpower.

Meira Kumar’s pitch to the ‘inner voice’ came in for an embarrassment minutes after her speech, as opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) declared its intention to go by the ‘winning side’. While she understood the presence of UDP leadership in her campaign meeting as support to her and claimed so, UDP chief Donkupar Roy rebuffed it minutes later. He was politically correct in stating that the party had attended the meeting only to honour the invitation sent by the Congress. All in all, the ‘inner voice’ does not count.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on July 7, 2017)