Meghalaya Assembly election: Congress' loss is BJP's gain in poll-bound state where defections abound
In the run-up to Meghalaya Assembly election scheduled for 27 February, the defection of many sitting MLAs seems to be the one factor that may influence the outcome
Shillong: In the run-up to Meghalaya Assembly election scheduled for 27 February, the defection of many sitting MLAs seems to be the one factor that may influence the outcome, as was seen in Assam and Manipur — both states now under BJP control. The Congress seems to be the most hurt by these desertions as a substantial number of legislators have left it to join other political parties. The Mukul Sangma government is now left with the support of 34 MLAs in the 60-member Assembly.
Most of the defectors have joined either the Conrad Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP), which is an ally of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), or the BJP. At least 13 current MLAs, including seven from the ruling Congress, have resigned from the state Assembly. Six others, including four Independents who supported the Congress-led Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA), have also resigned.
The BJP, which is in power in three states of the North East — Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur — is looking to form the government in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, which go to polls this month. The defection of prominent leaders from the Congress to the BJP (or its allies) has become common just before the polls in the region.
The saffron party that presently does not have a representative in the Meghalaya Assembly, has also seen desertion by ticket aspirants, but it is still optimistic about its future in the state. "Voters will make up their mind about the best candidate and we are confident that those candidates are with the BJP," said Nalin Kohli, national spokesperson and Meghalaya in-charge of the BJP.
The Congress MLAs who put in their papers include former deputy chief minister Rowell Lyngdoh, Pynshngainlang N Syiem, Sniawbhalang Dhar, Comingone Ymbon, Prestone Tynsong, Alexander L Hek, and Ngaitlang Dhar. Other MLAs who resigned are Opposition member Remington Pyngrope of the United Democratic Party and Independents Stephanson Mukhim, Justine Dkhar, Robinus Syngkon and Hopeful Bamon. Sanbor Shullai — who was with Congress ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — also left the party.
Lyngdoh, Sniawbhalang Dhar, Ymbon, Tynsong, Ngaitlang Dhar, Pyngrope, Mukhim, and Bamon joined the NPP. Hek, Shullai, Dkhar and Syngkon joined the BJP. Syiem and a Jirang MLA who quit the House recently joined the newly-formed People’s Democratic Front (PDF).
Exodus will not affect party’s prospects: Congress
While Opposition parties are of the opinion that the exodus has made a major dent in the Congress support base and will affect its performance in the upcoming election, the party's local leaders remain buoyant and have allayed fears that the party's prospects will be affected. Political observers say that desertions in the Congress camp have been mainly in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills region, while in the Garo Hills, Mukul Sangma has been able to hold his own, at least for the moment.
Veteran Congress leader DD Lapang asserted that there was no dearth of capable and potential leaders in his party. He also said that with the Opposition being divided, the Congress would emerge as the single largest party after the election. Congress Lok Sabha MP from Shillong Vincent H Pala also said that the anti-incumbency factor was working not against the Congress, but against the legislators who have deserted the party.
Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP) chief Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit said, however, that the defections have weakened the Congress. "It will make it easier for us (the Opposition) to defeat the Congress. Had the party remained intact, it would have been difficult," said Basaiawmoit. At the same time, he said that the prospects of those who had left the Congress and joined other parties were bleak. "I don’t see those (Congress legislators) who have joined the NPP sailing through the polls," he added.
The Congress legislators had earlier rebelled against the chief minister and the party leadership. Some of them were part of the state cabinet and were sacked by the chief minister on the grounds of "incompetence". The first MLA to abandon the Congress camp was Syiem, who represents Mawsynram. He joined the PDF and is the party’s chief ministerial candidate.
Syiem, who is also the chief executive member (CEM) of the Khasi Hill Autonomous District Council (KHADC), was constantly at loggerheads with the chief minister over the Village Administration Bill, which seeks to empower traditional tribal leaders by codifying the customary laws of the Khasis. The spat also extended to the dual-post issue, with the latter winning the case in the Meghalaya High Court. The state government passed the dual-post bill in the Assembly with effect from 1 October, 2015, following which as many as seven MLAs who held the posts of MDCs, had given up their posts fearing disqualification.
BJP clears the air on ticket allotments
Meanwhile, BJP leader Nalin Kohli said that party tickets were allotted on the basis of credibility and the chances of candidates to win in the polls. "Only those who were not found to be credible candidates have chosen to move out of the party," he said.
Refuting the charge made by ticket aspirant Manas Chaudhuri from South Shillong that the party was communal, Kohli said, "If he (Manas) finds the BJP communal, why did he join it in the first place." Chaudhuri left the BJP to contest from the Congress.
Kohli said when Chaudhuri joined the BJP, he committed himself to the party slogan of 'Sab ka saath sab ka vikas'. "He committed himself to that but sab ka saath sab ka vikas is not apna vikas (individual development) only, so when he did not get the ticket he went back to the Congress. He was interested only in apna vikas. He is entitled to think only for himself, but don't try to convert this into an ideological battle," Kohli said.
About the BJP not fielding any candidates from West Shillong, Kohli said tickets were given to those who had a chance to win and put up a credible fight. The BJP ticket aspirant from West Shillong, Sony Khyriem, recently joined the Congress after the saffron party decided not to field any candidate in that seat.
Justifying the allotment of ticket to Independent MLA from Khliehriat, Justine Dkhar, the BJP leader said that in the final survey, the MLA was way ahead of others, so the party went with him. It may be mentioned that Violet Lyngdoh, sister of BJP state president Shibun Lyngdoh, joined the NPP after she was denied a ticket from Khliehriat.
The author is a Shillong-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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