If Ruling Partners are Up Against the Government, What Will Happen to Democracy and Governance?

By: Kyrsoi Pyrtuh

This has a reference to the unresolved border imbroglio between Meghalaya and Assam. The deal made by the current NPP led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) Government with Assam has generated noises as well as fanfares. The two Chief Ministers helicoptered themselves into Langpih (one of the most contentious sectors) and villagers were in awe as they looked upwards to the sky which perhaps impelled them to believe that the solutions to the century old miseries had finally descended like mana from heaven. But to their utter dismay, many of the villages inside Meghalaya will be transferred to Assam as per the deal. There are anger, resentments and protests against the deal as it was nothing but a sell-out.

Not just this Government, but in the past different governments led by National Party, like the Indian National Congress (INC) had been fooling around that the border disputes with Assam could be resolved if Governments in both the States and Centre belonged to the same party. Today, this “false belief” is again being propagated by the NPP led Government on account that its sister or friendlier party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is at the helms in Assam and the Centre. It has also made the current MDA Government become over ambitious to resolve the century old border conflict once and for all within a short span thereby disregarding history and people. Save for regional party, all National Parties which had been in power in the last 50 years and till date are capitalising on this “false belief” for their own narrow political and vested interests.

This writer did not intend to undermine the efforts made by the different governments and reiterate that every effort made by individuals, civil society groups, traditional institutions like the Hima, Dorbar Shnong and Autonomous District Councils should be appreciated. It is vital to point out that the solution to the vexed border problems lies not in the question which party is running the Governments in the States and the Centre, however the Inter State boundary is the Constitutional and Legislative (Central) matters. The solution rests solely on Parliament and at the same time the sentiments and concerns expressed by the primary inhabitants or residents of the border areas and the grassroots institutions has to be taken into account.

The MDA Government is the conglomerate of Regional Parties, Independents and lately the five suspended MLAs of the INC had also joined the band wagon in order to improve governance and delivery as they claimed. But what improvement can they contribute is yet to be seen? It is accepted that running the coalition government is as difficult and risky as walking the single tight rope from one end of the canyon to the other as no one can guarantee for safety. There are pulls and pushes from all sides and implementations of vital decisions become difficult if not impossible. Among the regional parties, the United Democratic Party (UDP) is the major player in the MDA Government and is holding the most important home portfolio. But in these four years the UDP as major player, with immense bargaining power, had miserably failed to hold the Head of Government (CM) accountable on all fronts, from the illegal transportation of coal to corruption and criminality.

The border issue is making headlines every alternate day since the signing of the MOU vis a vis the negative reactions of several Himas, Dorbar Shnongs, the expressed anger of Residents, Civil society groups and Political parties, including the coalition partner(s), against the new deal is clear indication that all is not well with the current approach to settle the century old border problems between the Khasi-Jaiñtia and Garo Hills and Assam.

There are various reasons which have been attributed to the inter-state boundary disputes between Assam and Meghalaya, from the negligence of the political class to ensure that the boundary is well marked and interpreted correctly to the lack of developmental activities to the indifferences and apathy shown by Assam. Today, two or three more reasons can be added viz, the misconception and false belief propagated by National Parties that the border dispute can be resolved if the same party or partners are in power in both States and Centre. So far, the Governments that has governed Meghalaya are weakling ducks and never dare to stand up to Dispur and Delhi. The Regional Party (s) had failed and continue to fail as they are content with its subservient role to sustain their myopic vision and parochial politics.

One does not need to be adept with political theories to understand the meaning of collective responsibility of the Cabinet in a parliamentary democracy. It only requires a common sense that the elected representatives who constitute the Cabinet are governed by an uncompromising principle of collective responsibility. The Institute of Government clearly defines, “… the collective responsibility is a convention that has existed since the 18th century and is considered as the cornerstone of cabinet government…Collective responsibility has two main components. First, the principle that ministers are entitled to have free and frank debates prior to coming to a collective decision… Second, that once a position has been agreed in cabinet, all ministers are expected to abide by that position and vote with the government, or else resign from office”.

In the case of Meghalaya and with reference to the Inter-State boundary there are other major stake holders which have the major say and the State Government cannot afford to ignore them. These are the traditional institutions, namely, Dorbar Shnongs, Himas and the Autonomous District Councils. They are crucial and without which no solutions will work on the ground and they are also empowered by the Constitution to manage and govern the Schedule areas. Excepting the Dorbar Shnongs and Himas, the ADCs are an elected body whereby its members are elected on the basis of party system and there seems to be a conflict which undermines the principle of collective responsibility. The situation is such that the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council (KHADC) are not happy with the decision of the MDA government on the boundary resolution with Assam and it is highly probable that the KHADC will oppose it. However, the Executive Council of the KHADC is being headed by the elected member of United Democracy Party, a major partner in the MDA, and is supported by the Nationalist People’s Party. Both the parties constitute the current State Cabinet and they had collectively taken the decision to sign the MOU which effect the transfer of villages from Meghalaya to Assam. Thus, the conflict is glaring and it is certainly going to undermine the principle of collective responsibility.

Nonetheless, the KHADC being a Constitutional body can within its power protect and preserve the territorial integrity of the Schedule areas. On the contrary, in the party system the call of the Executive Council of KHADC, headed by the UDP, to oppose the Government’s deal on boundary is totally constrained, unless it is firm in its resolve to go against the position of the State Cabinet which their respective ministers had agreed upon. It is interesting to see how the elected NPP’s members in the KHADC behave and act on this pertinent matter. In fact, the UDP or any coalition partner should have replaced its own ministers and seek for a review of the deal or withdraw support from MDA.

Democracy is diminishing as the principle or ideology is taken a back seat, rather vanished into political oblivion. At present, what matters in politics and governance is to gain more power, wealth and position sans accountability and probity. We should prevent the State from falling into the abyss and slip to preposterousness. This is the Kairos or the moment to act and challenge the follies of the existing political parties and ruling class.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this organisation.

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