Elections are hardly fought on real issues. The best person always doesn’t get elected. But, the elected person is one who the people, as a whole, ‘deserve’ to lead them. The last US election was the best example of how people in even a developed country can be swayed by racial emotion. A ‘great wall’ – at a time when nations are opening up borders to the world – has fancied the minds of American public. In the current Uttar Pradesh election, the person of the stature of a Prime Minister made an issue out of electric supply during Eid versus in Diwali.
Meghalaya will be no different, in 2018 assembly elections. With parties brainstorming as to what to be made election issues next year, the controversy over proposed uranium mining has once again cropped up as a major issue in the state. The issue was dormant for years after the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) almost abandoned its plan to mine uranium in Meghalaya. UCIL had earlier identified uranium-rich areas in West Khasi Hills region and conducted exploratory drilling, which had led to massive protest. But a road project sanctioned by the Central government with an ‘objective’ to facilitate uranium mining has stirred the hornet’s nest once again. While a few groups belonging to the area wanted the road, others who thrive on promoting regional sentiment have opposed it. The latter had such huge support base that even political parties have joined the bandwagon.
At the centre of an irony is a senior politician, who made a volte face on the issue. Hispreaching Son Shylla, a newly-elected member of the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC), was the chief executive member of the Council in 2006 when the UCIL got clearance from KHADC to mine uranium. Shylla is now opposing uranium mining, tooth and nail! Shylla’s double standard has even caused embarrassment to his United Democratic Party (UDP). All regional parties including UDP are opposing uranium mining while the Congress and BJP kept a safe distance from the issue. Catering to the regional sentiment, the KHADC agreed to fund construction of the ‘uranium road’, in single lane, from a Central grant issued to the ADCs of the North-east. But the locals are pained that they are losing out on a double-lane road to be funded by the Centre. The local MLA Diosstarness Jyndiang has lent his support to a movement for the double-lane road with a condition that he does not support uranium mining. It remains to be seen how far the issue of road and uranium mining dominate the next year’s assembly election.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on February 22, 2017)