In Meghalaya, democracy’s alive & rocking

SHILLONG: The chief minister of Meghalaya loves Bad Company. He's not the only one, of course. "I love the band," says Mukul Sangma in a meeting with TOI that's slotted well past midnight, after he's done with the day's campaigning for Meghalaya's February 23 assembly polls. "Once I asked someone what he listens to and he didn't mention the Beatles. How can you not listen to those guys?" Sangma asks in all earnestness.

In a brown faux leather jacket, a scarf around his neck and pointy shoes on his feet, he is unlike any of India's chief ministers. But then, politicians in Shillong, the rock capital of India, are unlike anywhere else in the country. They play football, seldom make moral judgements and pretty often carry a guitar around — even when they are campaigning.

"Music here is so much a part of us," says the CM. "There are exceptions, though, like my father. He was a strict headmaster who didn't let me buy a guitar. So one of the first things I did in college was get one officially and form a band. All my friends were great guitarists."

The 47-year-old Congress leader, also called 'Doc' by his friends as he is a trained physician, speaks about health care with as much passion as he does about rock. "I am, like, totally into the Eddie Rabbit kinda thing," he says, "Air Supply, Lobo, Bon Jovi and Thin Lizzy are favourites too. Bad Company is always awesome," he smiles. Then, without preamble, he sings a few lines of the group's iconic 'Shooting star'.

It's not just him who's got the blues. Paul Lyngdoh, the United Democratic Party's working president, has recorded several songs, many of them hits, and has an active band that he frequently jams with. Even Conrad Sangma, the Wharton Business School-returned son of former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma, is known to be serious about his music.

And it shows all around Shillong, even in the campaigning by political parties. Jeeploads of volunteers play air guitar and pretend to head bang, as the election messages are blared out in rock, blues and pop tunes. However staid and boring their campaigning is in the rest of the country, here all the parties — the Congress, BJP, NCP, UDF — merrily sing along. "Music begins early in largely Christian Meghalaya, with choirs and carols," says Xavier N, a priest. "We can't live without God and guitar."