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Meghalaya miners: North East was not suffering tyranny of distance, but tyranny of low expectations

The North East was never suffering from the tyranny of distance. They were suffering from the tyranny of low expectations, the magic armour that liberal media throws around Congress governments to protect them from being accountable to the people.

On December 25, the birth anniversary of Swargiya Atal Bihari Vajpayee, PM Narendra Modi dedicated the Bogibeel bridge in Assam to the nation. As the Prime Minister basked in the glory of fulfilling a need expressed by the Assamese people since the 1970s, a much bitter Rahul Gandhi tweeted asking why the PM isn’t showing more concern for the trapped miners in Meghalaya.

Indeed, 15 miners trapped hundreds of feet below the ground in a coal mine in the East Jaintia hills. It has been 16 days now. That’s far too terrifying to imagine. And heartbreaking to think about.

As rescue teams make their best efforts under difficult conditions and we hope and pray for the trapped miners, we must also note the remarkable rise in the “national standing” of Meghalaya and in fact the entire North East. Who can deny that our people in the North East have been victims of neglect for most of the last 70 years? That the North East was treated as little more than a strategic possession of the Republic? In fact, Delhi’s concerns about the Chinese Army being able to make rapid advances through the region during a possible war were long used as the (lame) excuse to keep the North East deprived of basic road, rail and bridge infrastructure.

What a heartening change to see the “national media” proactively tugging at our conscience, with hard-hitting reports and editorial cartoons, pushing people to share in the grief of the North East and pushing the government into action.

Only a few years ago, celebrity editors in Delhi would laugh off calls from common people to cover even the worst tragedies in the North East. Those who are active on social media will remember how one celebrity editor, in particular, had haughtily dismissed demands for coverage of the deadly riots. His infamous argument was based on the tyranny of distance. That the logistics of covering the North East were too difficult for the media.

What changed so quickly?

The answer is not hard to guess. The North East, which Delhi media tends to lump together as a single entity, is now seen as a BJP stronghold. And wherever there is BJP, the great “institutions” of our democracy have work to do!

It is not like Meghalaya has a BJP government. Far from it. In fact, the Meghalaya Assembly has just 2 BJP MLAs who support the government. Talking of a “BJP government in Meghalaya” would be like saying that there is a BSP government in Madhya Pradesh because Kamal Nath has the support of 2 BSP MLAs in the Assembly.

But the mere fact that Meghalaya has 2 BJP MLAs who are on the side of the ruling party, coupled with the fact that Delhi intellectuals do not distinguish between North Eastern states, means that there is enough reason for Indian media to make Meghalaya a priority. Which is fundamentally a good thing. We all deserve a government that is kept accountable and on its toes by hawk-eyed observers and critics.

And this also means that the mere presence of BJP inevitably leads to accountable governance.

Tell me, has anyone heard about the drug problem in Punjab since the day the Congress was elected to power there? Of course not! In neighboring Haryana, remember how a big traffic jam near Gurugram became national news in 2016?

The difference: BJP is ruling Haryana. Congress is ruling Punjab.

Just think about how the story of 52 Dalits and tribals kept in ‘slavery’ for three years in Karnataka vanished from our screens within a minute or so. Or how the Kerala Government didn’t have to move a limb for three long months even as helpless nuns protested charges of rape by a powerful Bishop.

There is a reason that the media is called the fourth pillar of democracy. Because the media is supposed to focus the attention of the people on matters of public interest. Democracy works better with an informed public than not. Who can disagree with that?

Most of us are not members of political parties who stand to personally win or lose power with every election cycle. We are common people. We want better roads, electricity, water, lesser crimes, secure schools, a healthy environment and so on. That’s our real interest. I guess the question is: do you trust politicians to selflessly do their best for you when nobody is watching?

Do you trust politicians to do their best for you with your eyes closed? I’ll admit: I won’t even trust the typical politician to do their best for me with my eyes open!

And what does it tell you when we see that the Indian media just pack up and leave the moment Congress or one of its allies comes to power in a state?

Now we know: the North East was never suffering from the tyranny of distance. They were suffering from the tyranny of low expectations, the magic armour that liberal media throws around Congress governments to protect them from being accountable to the people.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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