Monday, March 1, 2021

Coronavirus Cogitations:  May Day, May Day 

Monalisa Changkija

Today is May Day. Google says: “May Day, in medieval and modern Europe, holiday (May 1) for the celebration of the return of spring. The observance probably originated in ancient agricultural rituals, and the Greeks and Romans held such festivals.” Google also says: “International Workers’ Day, also known as Workers’ Day or Labour Day in some countries and often referred to as May Day, is a celebration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement which occurs every year on May Day (1 May), an ancient European spring festival.” For more, please Google. However, with the novel Coronavirus pandemic wrecking economies across the globe there isn’t much to celebrate today. The unemployment numbers are mounting and we are looking at a much debilitated global economic scenario. Economies are built by workers’ blood, sweat and tears but when agricultural and industrial activities come to a grinding halt, investments dry up and markets become inaccessible, employment also come to a grinding halt. So, queues to soup kitchens are lengthening indicating very bleak times ahead.

Closer home we see heartbreaking images of hungry, thirsty and exhausted workers walking hundreds of miles home alone or with their families and with just a paltry amount of food in polythene bags along the way. These are the workers that have built the citadels of liberalized, globalized and ITised India however their images on our television screens underscore their marginalization and exclusion from this India. This is no way to salute the labour force, which never had a place at the national table in the first place but still has contributed to literally concretizing aspirations and ambitions of the haves. Imagine a post-pandemic scenario if lakhs of our labour force refuse to return to the cities. If our labour force returns to their homes who would build our roads, palatial homes, offices, markets and malls, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, research centres, factories, hotels, gyms, etc? Despite their lack of formal education and absence of employment opportunities consequently their poverty, etc., they have built cities. But even when discarded by cities, they will not go hungry because they will till the soil back home ~ they will continue to earn and eat by the sweat of their brows. But what of us in the towns and cities? Will we survive without the labour we take for granted in our homes and work places? Are our hands capable of labour and our brows tolerant of sweat?

In the din of sales pitches, in the allure of consumer goodies and in the bottomless pit of our acquisitive nature we have forgotten and abandoned the small guys, who made so much possible today. Let us salute them, let us honour them by including them in our lives, hearts and minds by acknowledging their worth and treating them with respect. This is even more pertinent for us in Nagaland. We may have built our cities with Rock N Roll, but they built our cities with brick and mortar, marble and granite, and enabled us to make claims of how much Nagaland has “developed”. We don’t even acknowledge their existence, much less their humanity, but today, on Labour Day, let’s say a prayer for them.

 Now, let’s talk again on this COVID-19 cess on fuel, which our Government has so cruelly imposed on us. That some of our political parties and a lot of our trade bodies have registered their unhappiness with this cess and have asked Our Government to rescind its order evokes much hope for the common man. Times are hard and it will get harder ~ especially for the common man, who is inescapably hit the hardest. The common man doesn’t deserve such this unkind cut and for once our Government must pay heed to the cries of the people, which may be a new experience for our Government but there is always a first time. Now is a good time for our Government to pay heed to the needs of the people, stop prioritizing itself and stop pandering to the insatiable wants of our elected representatives. Okay, from what I hear let me tell you a little bit about where a good portion of our funds from the Centre goes, which might explain why Nagaland is always broke and why our political elite love to put up this show of poverty.

I wonder if you remember the Compact Area Development (CAD) programme which was started in 1989, by the then Chief Minister of Nagaland. From what I understand of this CAD programme, it was not a development programme as such nor was it meant for any “Compact Area” as understood in economic parlance and through the economic prism. From the economic prism, or perspective, a Compact Area is an area that had similar climatic conditions and physical features where common development activities could be taken up. So, the CAD was simply a earmarking of Rs 20 lakhs per MLA for distribution to his supporters in his constituency. Sometime in the 1990s, the amount was increased to Rs. 35 lakhs by another Chief Minister, and further increased to Rs. 50 lakhs as District Plan. By or after 2003, the amount was increased to Rs 1 crore per MLA and named “Local Area Development Programme” (LAPD). Apparently, the Government of India then borrowed the idea and allotted Rs. 5 crore per Member of Parliament. Reportedly, attempts were made to formulate some guidelines for implementation of the LAPD however even if under the guise of a pretty nomenclature it still remains the elected Members’ Pocket Money to do as s/he pleased.

So, how did the bureaucrats react back then in 1989 ~ and probably till now? Reportedly, their reaction was C.A.D? B.A.D (bad)! M.A.D (mad)! S.A.D (sad)! In 1989, among the bureaucrats in the hallowed portals of the Nagaland Secretariat CAD was the hot topic discussed with a great sense of tragedy. How portentous because we bear the brunt of this CAD-ish badness, madness and sadness today! The bureaucrats at the time mulled over and analyzed the implications of the CAD and concluded that it would result in serious erosion of the principles of Separation of Powers because it gave MLAs Executive Powers or the powers to implement programmes. In practice, this money was untied and does not go through any Department or channel except the District Administration to supervise the myriad programmes. In my limited understanding, the LAPD also makes the entire bureaucratic structure rather redundant and marginalizes bureaucrats from the developmental process. Surely, bureaucrats couldn’t have not noticed this? Anyway, more disturbingly where, when and how the elected representative spends the money cannot be challenged. In a State where everything is translated in terms of money and money-making the impact of the LAPD is highly catastrophic and we continue to experience the consequences in our election system, our electoral process, in our human and infrastructural development indices ~ in fact, in our entire existential experience. The CAD/LAPD had also made our legislators ignore their primary moral and constitutional obligations of legislating, law-making therefore we have not seen the enactment of a single law that has changed the quality of our lives. Anyone is welcome to further research on this and educate all of us. And, our MLAs and MPs can always clarify, if I have got it all wrong.

Now the juiciest part ~ this Rs. 1 crore per MLA is allotted every year, which means a total of Rs. 60 crores annually. You calculate the total aggregate of this political self-indulgence of Rs. 60 crores from 1989 till 2020 ~ my mental faculties don’t stretch that far. So, where have all this money gone and what has it achieved from 1989 to 2020 ~ i.e. 31 years? Now, with all this money at the disposal of our 60 MLAs + 2 MPs, why should our Government now feel that it has to levy a COVID-19 cess Rs 5 on Diesel and Rs 6 on Petrol in order to meet the exigencies of the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic consequences of the lockdown? Why does our Government repeatedly talk about “fund constraints”, when our elected representatives are blowing money God knows where? Why are our education, health, roads and all other sectors in such shambles? Why did our Government have to buy second-hand Ambulances at such unreasonable prices? And it actually had the temerity to give the impression that they were brand-new! When our Government does what it is obliged to, why does it make it look like it is being magnanimously charitable to the people? It’s the people’s right, man. Now, the Government must do away with this undesirable and unproductive LAPD and use the money for tangible and genuine development. If we are serious about change, we must demand this and initiate the change we want, the change we deserve. Our Government may say: “Change is coming” but it has been too long coming and now all borders are sealed and all means of transportation stopped so we have to create our own change according to our genius and needs.

Meanwhile, let’s also hear it from our numerous political parties. Since they feel that that the present Government is short-changing the people, let their elected representatives first surrender the LAPD and vow never to take it. Let them give an honest account of how and where they spent this money all these decades. If they come to power, let their first action be on doing away with the LAPD. Let them give their word now ~ in written. Irrespective of political parties, all our elected representatives have been willing cohorts to this horrible anti-people, anti-development conspiracy. This has to change.

This explains the rise of the nouveau riche with unlimited wealth but no known source of income over the past few decades in Nagaland. This explains how salaried people, especially within the Government system, live beyond their means with no other known source of income. This explains the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots in Nagaland. This explains the corruption that has an entirely different dimension here ~ fully funded by the LAPD and by extension the Government. Imagine this has been going on for over 30 years and we still kept on believing the promises and lies of our political class. Shame on them! Shame on us!

One last thing for today ~ you might have noticed that our Government(s) never had a plot ~ more so this Government. So, who is actually running the Government? What are the credentials of the Advisors to the Chief Minister and the Government? Leaving aside the past but seeing that we are already into an unprecedented economic dark hole due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and in the light of the COVID-19 cess do we have any Advisor to the CM and Government with impeccable expertise and experience in economic issues? If not, why? At this time we need expertise and experience, knowledge, wisdom and maturity ~ not political, patriarchal and tribal favourites. My people, if we don’t demand and strive for excellence we will drown below the sea of mediocrity and nobody will hear our May Day, May Day.

Stay indoors, stay safe and don’t be in a hurry to unlock the lockdown.