BJP has good chances in Christian-majority Meghalaya, provided party maintains development as poll agenda
Thanks to Congress, BJP and other opposition parties, have no dearth of development issues to contest the elections in Meghalaya
In poll-bound Meghalaya, developmental issues are more or less the same as that in Tripura, if not worse. But what sets the state apart is its demographics.
Meghalaya is a Christian majority state, with a diverse mix of indigenous communities. Each community having its own set of cultural norms. I deliberately avoid using the word 'tribal', which is a colonial construct to refer to the indigenous communities, who have a rich cultural history. In certain cases, they can be even more civilised and courteous than the so-called ‘civilised’ communities.
Like in Tripura, BJP faced a similar challenge of starting the election campaign from scratch. But it has done a phenomenally good job. The precarious situation nevertheless lies in the fact that the party is fighting not only Congress but its NDA ally National People’s Party (NPP). This is a similar situation the party had faced in Maharashtra, with its ally Shiv Sena.
One can be almost sure that a post-poll alliance is definitely on the cards if BJP can do even marginally well. A similar opinion was voiced by Satyendra Tripathi, who is the secretary of BJP's Meghalaya unit. Tripathi said that the battle in Meghalaya is focussed on development issues. He remarked that Rahul Gandhi can go and lecture in Harvard but hasn’t cared to establish a single higher education institute (in Meghalaya).
This is where the poll campaign in Meghalaya completely differs from that in Tripura where the war of ideological narratives had a crucial part to play. This can be understood by the fact that only BJP produces a strong counter-narrative to the Left.
Meghalaya is one of the poorest states in India, as is visible by its ranking in the list of Indian states and Union Territories by GDP per capita. Meghalaya figures at 8th from the bottom in that list. The state has not a single state-run engineering or medical college. To put this into perspective, the neighbouring Assam has more than 60 such private colleges and 30 government colleges. The state of basic infrastructure in the state, like roads and railways, is worse than any other part of the world.
The absence of colleges has caused a remarked degradation in the quality of human resource in the state. Almost, every student has to move out of the state to pursue higher studies. Once educated, the youth has no or meagre employment opportunities in the state. I could notice youngsters with postgraduate degrees working as telephone operators in the election campaign for various parties.
In certain parts of the state, it takes around seven to eight hours to cover a distance of 50 kilometres. In one instance, not very long ago, a Garo woman was lifted by four men and carried to Bangladesh because she was having complications during her pregnancy.
The BJP and other opposition parties, hence have no dearth of development issues to contest the elections in Meghalaya. The BJP also has to its credit the work done by the Union government during the prime ministership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. During the Vajpayee tenure, the connectivity of Guwahati and Shillong improved, and the journey time reduced to three hours from seven hours because of the highway building projects of that time. Modi too flagged off the first passenger train in Meghalaya in 2014. Recently, the Union government announced a Rs 79,000 crore plan to develop roads and railways in the whole of North East.
The factual realities and the promises of the Union government make a very strong election pitch for the BJP, and it has been sticking to that.
The incumbent Congress has only sought to pitch the narrative that BJP will be anti-Christian and may impose a ban on beef, which forms part of the staple diet in the state.
The BJP seems to be accurate in the approach because it is fighting on development issues for which obviously the incumbent has little to answer. If BJP manages to scrape into the double digits, a post-poll alliance will almost be a certainty. What also works in the favour of BJP is that the people of North East have traditionally wanted to be closer to the party which is in power at the Centre, because they are hugely dependent on funds from the central government.
Taking all this into consideration, BJP has a decent chance to come to power.
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