The Durga Puja and the Diwali has ended peacefully, with no untoward incident reported from anywhere. The situation did look normal. Normal? But has Shillong been normal for the last 10 years or so, or perhaps more? No, the subtle under current tension always prevailed. Fuelled by hatred between communities, ignorance, fear, gossips and rumors, the demography and the cosmopolitan ambience of Shillong is slowly changing. The citizens of Shillong, people who have resided here for the past 50 years or more are slowly and finally migrating to more conducive living environments.
The reasons, they do not see any future here, the insurgency problem, economic backwardness, no support from the government and being singled out and targeted as a community… the non-tribals; by the militants, as well as small time miscreants. Non-tribals exodus has caused an economic crunch in the market. The Durga pujas and Diwali did end peacefully but a chilly streak of coldness prevailed throughout the festivity. Apprehension and a sense of fear was prevalent among the public while the festivity mood was marred by doubts and fear of violence. The pre-Pujas sales dropped to the lowest in the last few years. And the market did not heat up to the spirit and the fervor of the Pujas.
Business has never been so bad in Shillong. Gun culture and extortion have affected the business community as a whole. But it is not the business community alone, which is bearing the brunt, it the people… the common man too. They are the one's who are paying more for every thing. The burden of overheads are tremendous on the products sold here apart from the legal taxes there are illegal taxes too… the money exchanging hands under the table with authorities and the 'haftas' being paid to the umpteenth number organizations which claim to be from one outfit or another. The businessmen will not pay from his pocket, he recovers the same from his business and so it is the public who ultimately shells out all these legal or illegal taxes. Inch by inch the hole is being driven into the public pockets.
Be it food items, clothing, stationary, anything it is the common man who are being extorted finally. The difference in rates of items, even between Guahati and Shillong is exorbitant. A few months back I happen to buy a bunch or litchi fruit from Guahati for Rs. 5 for a bunch but imagined my dismay when I had to shell out Rs. 40 for the same bunch in Shillong. The transportation cost could not be Rs. 35 for each bunch. That set my mind reeling and I tried to find the rates of few more items on my later visits. Here are a few examples: I bought a revolving chair: cost in Shillong 2400, in Guahati the same item 1400. A difference of Rs 1000 flat. Pick up fruits, vegetables or any other day to day needs the rates vary a lot. In this regard I should surely mention this, people should not be gullible enough to buy anything without first surveying the market or at least checking out from 5 to 6 shops dealing in the same items before purchasing anything. Although the rates of ready-made garments are quite consistent in most of the shops, the rates of fabric varies exorbitantly. Imagine my shock when I saw the difference of almost 350 rupees per meter on the same fabric bought from two different shops in Police bazaar. And it has happened on two occasion very recently, that I bought from two different shop with a rate difference of almost 300 rupees per meter. From a particular shop in G. S. road Rs 600 per meter, the same fabric from inside police bazaar market Rs 250 per meter. Mind blowing isn't it?
With Literacy rate of 49.1 percent in the state, awareness among public is still very low. People are simple, more out of not being exposed rather then any thing else. It is a psychological fear, which is playing the maximum part in doing the ultimate harm. No one questions, nor asks for answers, they have a laid back attitude and a tendency to accept meekly what ever comes. One good example of people's fear psychosis is what happened on 23 August. I was in Police Bazaar G.S. Road, when I saw people were running for their lives away from Barabazaar and towards Police bazaar, Police point. People were screaming and shouting as shops downed their shutters. On inquiring, someone from among the crowd said, that there was a shoot out and a few Policeman had been shot dead near Dreamland. Others said, that three men has been shot dead in Barabazaar and curfew has been imposed from 4 pm. With rumors abound … no one could comprehend what was really happening. Except that one has to run, and run for their lives. So the people were running right from Barabazaar to Police bazaar and further on…. It was kind of a chain reaction engulfing the whole area. Shops were closed and the city had a deserted look with in a matter of few hours. And to think it was all because of a few runaway pigs! Actually the pigs were running away from the butcher and the people were shuffling to dodge the pigs. A few of the passers-by without realizing what was happening took to their heels spreading rumors, that they feared, must have happened. Fearing the worst, even I found myself back home at 4 PM sharp. With this kind of fear psychosis prevalent among the people it does not take much, to send shock waves throughout the heart of the city, and we have the full city paralyzed.
The city of Shillong looks dead after 8pm. People clamber back to the safety of their homes, rather then venture out for any kind of nightlife. A pregnant silence and a disquieting calm descends over the city. With a lot going on under the garb of darkness, tranquility and the quiet. History would not be very kind and sympathetic to this inglorious period of Meghalaya. With no dearth of incentives and schemes by the Center on the economic front, there is negligible progress in the name of economic development. For the state of Meghalaya alone Rs 700 crore has been allotted by the Central government for development purposes. There are subsidies, Tax holidays, and grants for industries… but to no avail. The whole system is suffering from a bout of inertia. There seems to be neither direction nor any composite plans by the state government. And even if there are, they are catching dust and rusting in files. Then what is this strong government force doing. They are just drifting with no oars and sails and no direction. No accountability and no sense of responsibility. But of-course they are working! Working? Yes! Shifting of files, postponing and avoiding decisions, overlooking important and crucial details, delaying clearance of projects, attending umpteenth number of conferences and seminars and the net result, zero- no decision taken- the gist… 'the said agenda shall be taken up for discussion in the next meeting'. And so it goes on and on… drifting. These policy makers and executors of the said policies, pocket a fat salary every month. But who cares if the state goes to the dogs, it is nobody's individual responsibility after all. It is the whole system, which is sick and stagnating, and even if once in a while, an enthusiastic young officer joins to make a change he finds himself fighting a system, that is corrupt and inactive, facing political opposition and interference. Restricted by the system, the only option he has is either resign or drift along. He chooses the later. Isn't it more convenient?
Mr. P. A. Sangma's had made a statement published in the Shillong Times that the militants are hand in glove with the politicians in the north-east. If this is true, it does not leave a lot of food for thought. It is not difficult to put two and two together. Certainly the people in power are accomplices. They come to power with the help of these organizations. Naturally they have to tow their lines and speak their language. It is not the militants who have betrayed the public, but these so called beloved leaders who have done so. They are the one who came with an ingenuous face, taking active participation of the militants and demand our votes with promises galore, while even the basic necessities of life eludes many in the state. Forget about anything else lets us consider this… Water, the basic necessity of life. The government in the last 28 years of statehood could not provided adequate drinking water to its people. The supply of water is erratic in most parts of the city. There is shortage of water in the wettest region of the world! With the highest rainfall in the world and hills that can serve as natural dams the state could not tap rainwater to provide to it's people. This shows the inefficiency of the subsequent governments for any long term planning benefiting the masses. The situation does look very bleak in the state, with almost negligible industrial growth, no generation of employment, forests produce banned, exodus of non-tribals, guns ruling the roost, deteriorating law and order situation in the state, and the hands of the police force tied by political interference. I feel that with such a situation in the state one cannot expect a booming economy. And it is pointless announcing any kind of schemes or incentives for growth and development without redressing these problems.
Mr. Rangad and Mr. Al Hek stated in Maharashtra on June 5th regarding the insurgency problem and the violence in the North-east while inviting business entrepreneurs to invest in Meghalaya that "There is more violence happening here (Maharashtra). The situation in the north-east is much better than this. The nation has a wrong perception of the north-east. I can assure the investors of a peaceful environment,'. This statement does not hold ground, in the last few months itself Apex bank and Punjab national bank were looted. I do not remember when we last got to celebrate Independence day and Republic day in peace without a band. There is always tension prior to Pujas. Most of the top Businessmen of the city have faced the trauma of kidnapping and extortion (locals are not spared too) or the likelihood of the same, while many of them have been shot dead or an attempt has been made on their life. This small state of simple 2 million people has seen so much of violence in the past 28 years of statehood that even the people of the city of Mumbai with over 1 crore population may not have registered consciously . While we talk about other places say even Mumbai, we should not forget that it is an international city , with a huge population where the stakes are much higher and crimes do not make that big an impact on the populace, while the ratio of violence versus the population may be lesser then Meghalaya. Now here we are talking about a much smaller place with minuscule population compared to the big cities, and where the fear psychosis has been generated to such extent that a few pigs can create a Pandemonium! And how sad that we have to compare negatively while proving a point, cause while he said that there is less violence in the north-east, he agrees to the fact that there is violence but in lesser measures.
But shouldn't this question be dealt with, that why, with so much of power in their hands the government always seems to be so weak kneed to take any stern actions? Why, it seem to always crumble under the pressure of NGO's ? With a 'khicheri' of a cabinet and every second MLA a minister, looking after the well being of 2 million people (projected population for 2000 by NER Data bank) of the state, why there seem to be so much of Law and order problem in the state? Is the police department so inactive and ineffective? Or perhaps, the root causes of all these lies somewhere else. May be they have adopted the three principles… see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil, under pressure and compulsion … it is so obvious from where and yet so concealed. Spoken only in whispers within the four walls of our homes.
Meghalaya is not a poor state as far as resources go with sizeable reserve of minerals. Limestone, Coal, Clay, Kaolin, Sillimanite, Iron ore, Glass, Sand, Feldspar, Quartz. There is no dearth of industrial incentives either. There is 5-year income tax holiday for all new industrial units set up in the North-East region, 90% transport subsidy for procurement of raw materials up to the Siliguri rail-head, identified growth-centers to be converted into total tax-free zones for the next 10 years. Capital investment subsidy of 15% of the investment in plant and machinery, upto Rs 30 lakh. Interest subsidy of 3% on working capital loans for a period of 10 years. Apart from these there are other subsidies e.g. on power, on cost incurred on Quality control and pollution control measures, Sale tax exemption of both Central and State, exemption on stamp duty, there are special incentives for EOUs, local employment promotion grants, the list seems to be endless. Now, one wonders that even after such incredible industrial incentives, why no business houses or even the people from other part of the country are ready to invest here. One and the most important reason happens to be the reputation of the north-east, insurgency prone, secessionists forces are very active here. And militancy, sensational killings, kidnapping of businessmen, extortion, tribal and non-tribal conflict has got it's own effect on retarding the economic growth of the area. The government has also hoodwinked the public for long enough with corruption, retarded economic growth, no solutions to the unemployment problem which is the main and the root cause of militancy in the area. While the NGO's have literally used, arm-twisting tactics with the government (certainly they must be having the keys to a lot of things, especially the dark closets of the politicians). I do not say that the NGO's are always wrong. They do make a point and often talk on relevant data and figures and work like check knots for government corruption. But when these check knots starts hindering the economic growth or the functions of the government then it serves a different purpose altogether and which may not be very conducive to the economic growth and prosperity of the region.
Whichever way one sees it, the whole onus of responsibility of political, social and economic betterment lies in the hands of the government. If they are on the right, they cannot be arm twisted nor stopped from taking a correct decision. People on the other hand, are also equally responsible too, as they are instrumental in electing the government . The ultimate responsibility falls on the shoulders of the people after all. If the people do not wake up to their responsibility and take a conscientious decision and vote for the right candidate in the next elections, we have yet to see the worst. We have to exercise our right to vote very discreetly, and elect the right and competent leaders. A leader who has a vision for the betterment of the people and who puts his personal short term benefits aside for the improvement of the community as a whole.
Only with the right and competent people leading us, there can be proper government initiatives, directional strategies, innovative developmental projects and a thrust on the technical education of youth with proper and targeted development of human resources of the state. Then only we can have good economic growth, flourishing business and generation of jobs. With contended youth, militancy will take a back seat and Meghalaya can become one of the more successful states of the country. And it should not be matter of concern, to open up the economy of the state. Business and economy cannot thrive in closed and restricted atmosphere. Such a situation gives rise to monopoly business where only a few hold the keys to the market, which helps in, dumping in the market, below par quality products with over priced tags. More the entrepreneurs, wider the scope for competitions and lesser the price. These are the days of the Internet with globalization being the order of the day. Even hardcore swadeshis like BJP have understood this and we have our Prime Minister wooing the American President. We cannot lock ourselves from the world and built walls around us… and become toads. Intermingling helps assimilation and growth, and with growth there are changes or rather enhancement. And we should welcome that.
Without assimilation of different cultures, different thoughts and views, growth is not possible. Wouldn't we all be in the days of the Stone Age even now, if it had not been for growth. Just watch how the Indian roads have changed since the ushering in of foreign technologies in the field of automobiles. While earlier, we had to wait for months just to get the delivery of the antique model ambassador car, now we can walk into any showroom choose a car and dives out. There is wide range of choices right from the modern, to the state of the art technologies. Cosmetic market is booming today due to the influx of foreign products. What a wide range of choices we have now, and see how Lakme and Ponds had to improve due to the competition. They too have come out with new range of products with new and improved technology. Earlier they were dumping us with their standard vanishing and cold creams for decades and our grand mothers had to make do with just that. Well aren't we lucky we have choices, opportunities, and options? Yes, the cultural interest of the local people should be protected, in ways that does not harm either the local interest or the economic growth of the state. While a slight change in attitude of the people will make all the difference and we can steer our economy from a slumping to a booming one!