Don’t write off the Governmental intervention for Meghalaya’s development

We are all doomed. I hate to sound repetitive but it is the truth. What else can we surmise when we hear that for 3 driver positions in a government department thousands of job applicants turned up? The pay is meagre, there are dangers to pension and health coverage, the hours are long, tasks include fetching and dropping memsahib, taking annoying mutts to the vet and so on. Yet in spite of these obvious demerits, thousands of people still applied. How can we explain this unusual phenomenon? It is hardly limited to Meghalaya, mind you. Many other states in the country also reel from this problem.

On the one hand, it is very easy to heap the ‘blame’ upon the applicants themselves. Government or office related work is thought of by many to be relatively easier and less challenging than other lines of employment that one might want to pursue. It certainly is not without its problems but you don’t need to worry too much about success or failure as the government and its finances are your support crutches. Running one’s own business is often times torturous especially if one is just starting out, your failure or success is seen as your own and not anyone else’s (though there are often times systemic factors determining both). There is actually a little bit of real envy in a businessman’s voice when he remarks about how nice it must be to get a ‘monthly salary’. The reality though is that he can sometimes make in a month, twice the annual salary of a government employee, depending on how fortunes fare. It is also worth noting that for a long time, government jobs covered your well-being as well as that of your loved ones. Today the benefits of pension are under threat and medical coverage is dwindling daily. But for whatever is left of them, people still rush for government jobs because they are ‘safe’.

At the other extreme, what do you have? The much touted, but seriously despised, corporate jobs. Most low-mid level corporate jobs in India are rubbish. The government has rescinded any control over the corporate sectors and the result is that corporations can demand that you come to work every day of the week, you are troubled ceaselessly if you want casual leave, you work from 9 to 9 and your only source of leisure is to go spend money in a Cineplex run by the very company you work for! This is why so many of my friends and family rush back to the old comforts of the state-run companies or government offices. In Meghalaya, working for the government means that you can come into office late, have a hot cup of tea brought to your desk and discussing the daily teer scores during lunch. Well, this is also not an ideal situation. Somewhere between the corporate and the public visions is where we must explore new avenues for gainful employment.

But when one starts to think along those lines, one will immediately be confronted with the obstacles. Technocrats will emerge to silence you with their projections, reports, data analysis and statistics. Risk must be minimized they inform us and that is why they advice banks and other financial institutions to not veer too much from the main road, that is to say, that they continue issuing the usual housing, car and (mis)education loans. You want to blame someone for Shilllong’s horrible traffic? Look no further than the banks. They have made it a proper racket with their car melas, car loan fairs etc. Everybody gets fatter and rounder. The dealerships get money from the banks for hosting such a thing, the banks get new customers, and every customer gets to own three cars – one for daily usage, one for going to church/weddings and another for off-roading: doesn’t anyone in Shillong just walk anymore? These sorts of practices show us once again how deluded we can be, as a society, when we claim to have “freedom”. Certain decisions at a higher level lead us down the path to a herd mentality. Again because of a certain verdict to appease what it sees as one of its main voting demographic (its own staff), the government has kept its hands off telling which investment areas the major banks should prioritize over others. What we have is not “freedom” but an economic slavery. Even the state banks make getting capital quite a task though to be fair they are at least willing to listen to business proposals. But the others have been dismissive. On that note, is SBI supposed to be “banker to every Indian” or only middle class ones?

None of the major types of loans being offered by the major banks in Shillong today are, strictly speaking, profitable ones. Aside from housing and car loans which most of the time entail spending cash rather than receiving, education loans are also suspect. What are the actual career prospects for someone who passes out today? Either they are forced to continue working outside under horrible conditions in order to repay the loan or they are obligated to sell their family land as no decent jobs are available. In Meghalaya, the primary/agricultural sector – a major source of employment even in its current anaemic state – is woefully underfunded. We have no manufacturing to speak of and everyone has skipped the bottom two sectors and just jumped straight into service provision (government service mostly). The government refuses to hold the hands of farmers and orchardists by implementing comprehensive crop insurance, minimum support price, cooperative marketing or lobbying for their goods. They have no trouble handing over cheap power supply and high subsidies to the Byrnihat/ SEZ groups who consume a lot and basically offer nothing back to the state coffers. The “invisible hand” of the market is making obscene gestures at us.

Government assistance/intervention, from farm to store shelf, is crucial for the success of a product in our current predicament. Many local (agro-based) businesses which I have observed flounder after a while because they simply cannot survive the intense rigours of the competitive marketplace. It is nonsense to say that only the fittest products/brands shall survive because the winners of such competition are always backed up either by cash accumulated over many years or concessions made by governments themselves. Even mega firms like Coca Cola will not simply set up a plant unless they are given certain incentives and assurances by local administration. So why do we have double standards for our local goods and products? We need the government today more than ever as a means of gaining leverage in unfair situations. It is there to ensure equality in an “inequal” world. A government is formed with the primary aim to promote the interests of the general good. What we have been getting in Meghalaya for the past few decades is a farce and an insult to our common aspirations.

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Avner Pariat Written by:

Avner Pariat is a poet and chronicler of Khasi Jaintia Hills.

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