CBI Under Watch

Finally, the education scam probe has made a little progress. Even the accused, Ampareen Lyngdoh, has welcomed it saying she had been suffering the blemish for over a decade. It should come to a logical end. Even if she is guilty, as it appears, she would have nothing more to say! But she was perhaps right in terming a ‘well-calculated move’ the CBI booking her in the case along with additional chief secretary PS Thangkhiew. She made no bones about her denial to issuing any order to apply white ink in order to tamper with the scoresheets of teacher aspirants in 2007. It was alleged that the scoresheets were tampered with in order to facilitate recommendations from as many as 15 politicians. They recommended over 250 candidates with most being appointed, but terminated years after revelation of the scheme through a high court order.

With Ampareen pleading innocence and playing the victim card instead, it remains a big question as to under whose order the scoresheets were tampered with. And where from the CBI got the specific details of the names of politicians and the exact number of candidates recommended by them. Was it a coincidence that most of these candidates had been appointed before being terminated after a prolonged legal battle? Ampareen was the education minister then and she has no answer how did it happen, supposing she is innocent? The then director of elementary and mass education, JD Sangma, stated before the CBI that the scoresheets had been tampered with as per her order. According to Sangma, some of white-ink act was committed even at her residence. What vested interests the senior government official had to ‘make up such a story’ at the cost of earning a serving minister’s wrath is not clear.

However, the CBI must be neutral in going ahead with the probe. Naming only Ampareen, who being the then education minister of course has to be booked, has already given rise to speculation about a political force acting behind. Although recommending names for jobs is a lesser crime than appointing them on such recommendation, can’t there be an angle of bribery, cash or kind. What it only ‘generosity’ that prompted the politicians, who are now in different camps including BJP and NPP, to recommend candidates in dozens. Former UDP MLA Remington Pyngrope, who recently joined the NPP, had recommended as many as 47 names! The second in the list with 37 candidates was none but the current deputy chief minister RC Laloo, who decided to quit electoral politics ‘to pave way for new generation’. The same number was recommended by former minister Sniawbhalang Dhar, who recently joined the NPP bandwagon. While CBI is expected to expedite the probe nailing the culprits, it is also hoped that none irrespective of political affiliation should escape its dragnet.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on January 6, 2018)

Advertisements

Smarter Electorate

It took five years for laying the foundation stone of a medical college, since it was announced by the current Mukul Sangma government. The government said the delay was due to a technical issue regarding the minimum distance between the proposed medical college and the hospital. As the earlier site was not within 10 km from the present Tura Civil Hospital where the college wing will come up, the project was shifted to Doldegre located within permissible limits as specified by the Medical Council of India (MCI). The question here is was the state government not aware of this particular MCI guideline before selecting the site of the hospital? If it is so, it is a serious lapse on the part of the authorities dealing with the particular subject. The chief minister cannot be blamed directly for the shortcoming, but his government is liable for the faux pass that delayed an institution like medical college for five long years.

The laying of the foundation stone just ahead of the state assembly election also leads to another question — did the government plan the timing of this event well ahead of time since it took five long years. It could have taken four or six years too! The way the chief minister and his colleagues are laying foundation stones and inaugurating already functioning projects, it’s no wonder the delay in construction of Tura Medical College could be election oriented as well.

Although these election stunts are very apparent for the electorates, who are much more aware than earlier times, the trend is yet to stop. Distribution of blankets is still in vogue. Union Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment Krishan Pal Gurjar recently distributed wheelchairs, spectacles and artificial teeth to senior citizens while launching the Rashtriya Vayoshri Yojana in the state, first in the North-east. It was but obvious that Meghalaya was chosen among eight states with an eye on the upcoming election. While such launching of schemes may get the benefit of doubt of being national projects, the laying of foundation stone for the Tura Medical College cannot escape the eyes the watchful voters. What did the government do for five long years? Similar is the case of inauguration of the New Umtru Hydro Electric Project by chief minister Mukul Sangma. The project was commissioned six months ago adding 40 MW to the state’s total power generation. It’s high time the ruling side understood the increased level of awareness among electorates who can easily read between the lines and deliver the ‘dues’ to the former through the ballot.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on January 5, 2018)

Eye on 2019

The coming election in Meghalaya would perhaps see the biggest number of MLAs switching sides to other parties. The en masse jump was not because of their not having any chance of getting tickets from the existing parties, but the bigger hope shown by the parties they are going to join. While everyone of the detractors are giving the excuse of chief minister Mukul Sangma’s ‘dictatorial attitude’ the actual reason — as Mukul had already alleged — is their self interest. It is they not getting the ‘share’ of power (and money) Mukul was expected to allocate to them. They were any looking for another boat to jump on for being sidelined all along by the chief minister. After all, it has been an indigestible fact that a chief minister has been able to hold onto his chair for eight long years in a state that has seen over 21 chief ministers sworn in over a period of 45 years.

The biggest factor, perhaps, driving the MLAs not to stick with the Congress is the party’s having very little chance of coming back to power in 2019. As of now, it looks highly improbable that the saffron brigade would lose the next Lok Sabha elections. With a little over one year to go for the parliamentary polls, Narendra Modi still appears very strong as a leader of the country. He had given at least two major shock treatments – demonetisation and GST – to the nation that pained the common people. Yet people, it appears, are with him. Recent elections to the Gujarat assembly was the testimony to the people’s tolerance toward Modi’s leadership. All this has been under close watch of the politicians of Meghalaya. For those on the fringe of the ruling side – either dissatisfied of not given any powerful ministry or enough say in the affairs of the party and the government – the political developments in the nation have emerged all the more reasons to consider to shift their allegiance. And they have options. One is to directly join the BJP and the other is any other party that is close to saffron party. No wonder why as many as eight MLAs including five from Congress have put in their papers to join the National People’s Party (NPP). Then there is option of joining any other party, who has the maximum chance of going with the BJP rather than Congress for post-poll alliance. They would be attracted towards BJP for the sole reason of the party’s strong chance of retaining the country’s reins in 2019.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on December 30, 2017)

A Tense New Year

31st December is going to be a historic day in Assam. The first draft of the National Population Registrar (NRC) will be published on the day. Citizens in the whole state are anxiously waiting for their names to appear in the draft NRC. The authorities, however, made it clear that the names of many genuine citizens may not appear in the first draft as the verification process is not yet complete. After overshooting its deadline for completing the NRC updating exercise, the authorities dealing with NRC are now working day and night to abide by the Supreme Court ruling to publish the first draft by December 31.

As the NRC office has turned into a war zone in view of the deadline, government officials had to sacrifice their holidays during this festive season. Right from the deputy commissioner to the block development officer, leaves have been as good as cancelled. Some offices are even working till late night. Workload in the districts with more population and especially with illegal migrants has been tremendous on the officials. They are also under severe pressure from various quarters such as the judiciary, bureaucrats and the political class. While the political class would want not a single genuine citizen’s name be omitted in the first draft — as this matters votes they get — the court has kept a strong vigil against any bending of the rules.

Although the authorities have time and again assured the people of Assam that the first draft is not the final and many genuine citizens may not find their names on it, handling the public sentiment on such issues is much easier said than done. Those omitted would definitely raise their voice and the political class would have to bear the brunt of it. The New Year in Assam may not be very pleasant in many parts of the state. There would be cases of some names of the same family being missed in the list, as already indicated by the NRC office. Those missed will have to wait, not known how long, for their names to get published in the final draft. How many will have that patience is yet to be seen.

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

Inauguration Spree

In India, a lot of things wait to happen till politics. Opening of long-completed projects and laying of foundation stones without financial feasibility have long been taken for granted. Everyone, right from Mukul Sangma to Narendra Modi take resort to this obvious political tool to win elections. As public memory is short, they want to keep a lot of things to be launched or announced ahead of the elections. The recent meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Shillong was nothing but aimed at the assembly elections to be held in February. As the PM’s visit has to be “official”, his office decided on the long-delayed Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura road to be inaugurated by Modi. A major section of the road in East Khasi Hills is yet to be completed! In fact official sources confirmed getting a lot of calls from Delhi to find out any Central project fit to be launched by the PM. It was not the project for which the Prime Minister has come, but it was because of his visit that the yet-to-be-completed project was chosen to be inaugurated.

Meanwhile, political leaders on the ruling side are already in inauguration and foundation laying spree. The election may be announced anytime that will bring all such kinds of activities. A hospital at Mawphlang waited for 17 long years to be opened by chief minister Mukul Sangma just before the election. Could not it be inaugurated six months ago, or might be delayed six months further! Why is the perfect timing? Do anybody wonder? Or everyone knows the answer? It happens, people may think. This much benefit of doubt can be granted to politicians. Urban affairs minister Ronnie V Lyngdoh has launched a housing programme for poor people whereby houses would be provided new roofs and new houses to be constructed for beneficiaries. Chief minister has announced setting up of nine ‘community colleges’ including four new colleges. All the new colleges will be set up in Garo Hills, Mukul’s home region. It’s raining new projects and schemes in Meghalaya, all ahead of elections. Everyone welcomes these schemes, but launching of these could be evenly distributed throughout the five years. In that case, the government also remains accountable for executing the schemes. Once government changes, the new government tends to neglect such schemes and get busy devising new ones to claim credit. The NDA government did a lot of twisting to several schemes of the UPA government and renamed them, making them appear as new schemes. It’s time Indian public grew up and no more influenced by such electoral tactics. Politicos would correct themselves as well.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on December 23, 2017)

Inauguration Spree

In India, a lot of things wait to happen till election. Opening of long-completed projects and laying of foundation stones without financial feasibility have long been taken for granted. Everyone, right from Mukul Sangma to Narendra Modi take resort to this obvious political tool to win elections. As public memory is short, they want to keep a lot of things to be launched or announced ahead of the elections. The recent meeting of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Shillong was nothing but aimed at the assembly elections to be held in February. As the PM’s visit has to be “official”, his office decided on the long-delayed Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura road to be inaugurated by Modi. A major section of the road in East Khasi Hills is yet to be completed! In fact official sources confirmed getting a lot of calls from Delhi to find out any Central project fit to be launched by the PM. It was not the project for which the Prime Minister has come, but it was because of his visit that the yet-to-be-completed project was chosen to be inaugurated.

Meanwhile, political leaders on the ruling side are already in inauguration and foundation laying spree. The election may be announced anytime that will bring all such kinds of activities. A hospital at Mawphlang waited for 17 long years to be opened by chief minister Mukul Sangma just before the election. Could not it be inaugurated six months ago, or might be delayed six months further! Why is the perfect timing? Do anybody wonder? Or everyone knows the answer? It happens, people may think. This much benefit of doubt can be granted to politicians. Urban affairs minister Ronnie V Lyngdoh has launched a housing programme for poor people whereby houses would be provided new roofs and new houses to be constructed for beneficiaries. Chief minister has announced setting up of nine ‘community colleges’ including four new colleges. All the new colleges will be set up in Garo Hills, Mukul’s home region. It’s raining new projects and schemes in Meghalaya, all ahead of elections. Everyone welcomes these schemes, but launching of these could be evenly distributed throughout the five years. In that case, the government also remains accountable for executing the schemes. Once government changes, the new government tends to neglect such schemes and get busy devising new ones to claim credit. The NDA government did a lot of twisting to several schemes of the UPA government and renamed them, making them appear as new schemes. It’s time Indian public grew up and no more influenced by such electoral tactics. Politicos would correct themselves as well.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on Dec 23, 2017)

Jubilant Congress

The whole of India believed 2G was a massive scam. After the special court verdict acquitting all the 17 accused, Congress leader and advocate Kapil Sibal said, ‘There was no corruption, it was scam by Vinod Rai’, the then Comptroller General of India (CAG), which reported 1.76 lakh crore loss to the exchequer in the allocation of 2G spectrum in 2008. The ‘scam’ that led to the arrest of then telecom minister AR Raja and MP Kanimozhi, both from DMK, also became a major cause of Congress’ historic debacle in 2014 election. While the Congress is jubilant over the court verdict, BJP is not going to leave the battle field very soon. Finance minister Arun Jaitley mocked at Congress saying the party has taken the verdict as a ‘badge of honour’. The court did not deny the scam, only said the ‘prosecution miserably failed’ in proving the allegations it made in its ‘well choreographed charge sheet’. Subramnian Swamy, mover of the PIL that led to the arrest of Raja and Kanimozhi, said the verdict is wrong and suggested the government to appeal the order in the high court.

The judgment led to two kinds of public perception. One, the powerful and rich accused have been able to ‘manage’ the verdict in their favour. And the other is the then CAG Vinod Rai was influenced by BJP and other parties against then UPA government, to project the ‘imaginary loss’ in the earth-shaking report. Given the degrading perception about judiciary due to undue delay in justice and innocents rotting in jails without trials, it is highly likely that the ‘manage’ theory will rule the roost. However, judiciary cannot function in order suit the public perception. There are instances of most innocent looking person committing crimes like accepting bribe and even committing rape. The reason given by special court judge OP Saini, ‘lack of evidence’, for acquitting accused is given time and again in Indian courts. And the accused get scot free.

However, the jubilance of Congress and DMK is overzealous. The court did not deny the scam — massive loss to the exchequer. Only solace, for the two parties, is that the money trail could not be proved as yet. There is a long way to go. The BJP-led government is likely to appeal the decision that would otherwise eliminate one of its strongest weapons against the ‘corrupt’ Congress.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on December 22, 2017)

The Family Party

Since 1885 when Womesh Chander Bonnerjee became the first Congress president in the party’s Bombay convention, it was the party’s convention not to elect the same person for two consecutive years. The convention was broken when Jawaharlal Nehru became the party president in 1929. He was re-elected the next year. He again held the post for four years four consecutive years from 1951 to 1954. However, it was UN Dhebar who also had four consecutive terms (1955-69) as Congress president. Still, it had been the party’s practice to hold yearly election until Indira Gandhi stopped the practice and held the post to herself from 1978 to 1983 and again 1983 (Delhi) to 1984 (Calcutta). Then followed Rajiv Gandhi, who was at the helm for six years — 1985 to 1991. Narashimha Rao too held both the post for four consecutive years 1992 to 1996.

The Gandhi so far had six of its members, almost all who came to limelight barring Sanjay Gandhi, as Congress president. In the case of both Indira and Rajiv, their Congress presidency ended with their assassination. The party which once held election every year and made sure no person returns to the post for two consecutive terms has turned into a ‘family affair’ for long. In fact, Sonia Gandhi by virtue of being the wife of a former Prime Minister, had held the post for longest term of 19 years from 1998 to 2017! Now Rahul Gandhi, (47) is just a ‘young bachelor’. If the Congress ‘legacy’ is anything to go by, Rahul might once break his mother’s stupendous record! Did Congress not have great leaders in the past to hold the post for so long? Or they don’t have now and that’s why they have resorted to the ‘best among the worst’ options. It appears the Congress wants to carry on this family legacy as long as people continue remembering Nehru and Indira. There seems to be another reason for the Congress to carry on with the ‘legacy’: the word ‘Gandhi’. The word often reminds of the Father of the Nation: Mahatma Gandhi. Rahul ‘Nehru’ would not have the same appeal as Rahul Gandhi. Whatever be the reason for Congress sticking to the family, it is time for the public to judge if the party had served the public better in this way. It’s difficult to surmise what difference would have it had (for the public) if the party had democratically elected presidents every year like it had 100 years ago.

(Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on December 16, 2017)

CM for Eight Years

Mukul Sangma is finally going to be the second chief minister of Meghalaya to complete a full five-year term, after SC Marak from 1993 to 1998. Mukul’s achievement is even greater as he would be at the helm for eight consecutive years. On this count, the state’s first chief minister Capt Williamson Sangma was leading with six consecutive years, but he was sworn in four times from two different parties in that period. Notwithstanding the common allegation of being dictatorial, Mukul remained the undisputed leader of the Congress since he took the reins from DD Lapang in 2010. He overcame several attempts to oust him from power by dissidents within the Congress party. And if Congress comes to power, which political pundits have opined is unlikely, Mukul would be the hot favourite for the post once again.

The other day, James Sangma of the National People’s Party (NPP) tried to corner the chief minister by terming the government’s decision to keep offices open on January 28 and 29 as against the faith of the majority Christian people of the state. Although the NPP has created sort of a wave by being able to rope in a number of Mukul detractors to its fold and had been right in criticising the government on many fronts, James lost it in this case. After keeping mum for some days, Mukul made a clarification in the assembly saying those two working days are to process the revised pay of government employees themselves. Otherwise the process may be delayed. NPP had no words left to counter it! Had James made an attempt to challenge Mukul on this ground, the former would be seen as against the interest of all the government employees.

It is this shrewdness of Mukul that let him survive the traditionally hostile political atmosphere of Meghalaya. In fact, by having seen Mukul as chief minister for eight years, people have almost forgotten that in Meghalaya chief ministers were changed overnight at the drop of a hat. In the past 45 years of statehood, the state has seen 11 chief ministers, several of them multiple times (DD Lapang donned the hat five times), and two President’s Rules. Even after the anti-defection law of 1985, states like Meghalaya and Arunachal refused to budge. The trend got changed in Meghalaya, thanks to Mukul.

Published as The Meghalaya Guardian as editorial on December 15, 2017