Shillong: In the quaint locality of Upper Nongrim Hills in the heart of Shillong, the residence of the member of Parliament representing the city does anything but stand out. Without a hint of security personnel guarding the entrance, the house can be easily mistaken for that of the local dentist.
A Congress veteran, Vincent H Pala is one of the only two representatives from Meghalaya in the Lok Sabha. As was expected, he sounded optimistic about the party’s chances in the upcoming Assembly polls in the state. “As of now, we’re quite confident — no doubt about it. I’m a 100 percent sure we will form government,” he said, as he struggled to keep track of all the phone calls he was receiving on his four iPhones.
When asked if the Congress finds the same response from the people now as it did in 2013, Pala said, “May not be exactly the same, but people are still supporting us,” as he admitted that a lot has changed since the last state election. “Many people have left the Congress, many more have joined the party. A lot has changed in political equations.”
A massive group portrait of all members of the 15th Lok Sabha hung on the wall beside his table, with former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar seated prominently in the centre. Pala managed to hang on to his seat in 2014 and went on to become a member of the BJP-led 16th Lok Sabha too, but one could not guess that from the contents in his office.
Barely two months before the elections, the ruling Congress suffered a setback when five of its MLAs, including former deputy chief minister Rowell Lyngdoh, resigned from the state Assembly. But Pala says the party has mostly recovered from the shock exit of its members.
“At the beginning, we did feel that Congress’ prospects would be hurt because of the defection, but after new people joined us, we have now recovered. We may not win some of the seats where these erstwhile Congress MLAs contested from, but we will win others where new people have joined us. So, it will be compensated,” he said.
Here are excerpts from the rest of the interview:
Many, including former deputy chief minister Rowell Lyngdoh, have accused Chief Minister Mukul Sangma of behaving like a dictator. Have these statements changed Sangma’s image among the public?
These people (who have quit the Congress) have been working with Sangma for the past seven years or more. But after being dropped from key government positions, these MLAs have started talking ill of the chief minister. I think the public is well aware that this is only personal, and hence shouldn’t be brought forth as an election issue. These personal issues don’t have anything to do with the party.
After BJP’s campaigning in Meghalaya, do they seem like a much stronger opposition than they had seemed earlier?
The BJP looked rather formidable until three months ago. But when the time for allotment of tickets came, they did not give any to BJP loyalists, but only to businessmen. The BJP has gone back to its old ways. Tickets were given to none of the BJP members who worked very hard for the party for the last couple of years. All businessmen got the BJP tickets, people who have a lot of financial potential.
And that is not so with the Congress?
No, in the Congress, we give tickets to whoever we groom. There were no complains about the Congress’ allotment of tickets this year, except in one case where the person left us and joined the BJP. One person in 60 seats doesn’t make a difference.
Congress is much more united this time.
BJP’s billboards and mini vans advertising the party and national leaders can be seen across the state. The same is not true, however, for other parties. What do you think of these contrasting election strategies?
I think it is all public money. The Congress doesn’t waste public money. All BJP advertisements that you see on billboards and minivans are being paid for by the taxpayer. I don’t think people will be swayed away by these tricks.
This may work in Gujarat where the population is large, but here a candidate wins a seat even after securing 6,000-7,000 votes. The public knows all candidates well, and their backgrounds. So, advertising profusely for them, like the BJP is doing, wouldn’t help.
The more they see Amit Shah’s photo all around, the more people will think they (the BJP) want to make Meghalaya another Gujarat. Why don’t they have the local president’s or chief ministerial candidate’s photo? I’ve seen these vans, not a single one has photos of local leaders — only Amit Shah and Modi.
Are you suggesting that BJP’s election strategies employed in other states won’t work here?
Yes, because it is totally a different scenario. People here are cool, calm, disciplined and literate, not like others. Showmanship will not work here.
What are your predictions regarding the vote and seat sharing patterns in these polls?
The NPP will get a significant chunk of the vote share, but in terms of the votes converting into seats, I don’t think they will cross 15 seats in Jaintia and Garo hills.
Congress will cross 30, because we have got a good fight in 42 seats now, and are sure to win 22-23 of them. But politics is dynamic, so things may change. This time, the advantage with Congress is that although leaders left the party, the voters stayed with us.
The BJP will not win more than two seats.
But BJP is aiming for around 40 seats, with its Mission 40 agenda. Mission is different, and achievement is different. They will have to work very hard for even two seats.
What are the biggest issues the Congress is fighting the Meghalaya polls on?
People will realise that whenever the Congress was not in power, law and order was a big challenge, which is in control with the Congress in government. However rich or powerful you are, if law and order is not given importance, there is no peace of mind.
Second is the management of finances. Whenever the Congress has been in power, infrastructure development has been a priority.
Thirdly, local parties will think only for the locals but Congress is a party which thinks of everyone across the board. A regional Khasi party will only think of the Khasi people, or Conrad’s NPP would think only about the Garos. But Congress is a party which takes everyone on board, especially the poor and marginalised people.
Updated Date: Feb 17, 2018 17:14 PM