Meghalaya polls: With 5 MLAs quitting Congress and NPP, BJP emerging strong, the threat against ruling party is palpable

With 5 MLAs quitting party, the NPP emerging strong in Meghalaya and the combined resources of the BJP and RSS, the threat against ruling Congress is real and growing

FP Politics January 31, 2018 12:40:24 IST
Meghalaya polls: With 5 MLAs quitting Congress and NPP, BJP emerging strong, the threat against ruling party is palpable

With political parties, local and national, gearing up for the final rounds of election campaigns in poll-bound Meghalaya, Congress president Rahul Gandhi attended a party-organised concert in the state on Tuesday, in a bid to reach out to young voters.

Speculations are that the Congress, which has been in power for nearly 15 years in Meghalaya, is facing serious political competition in the upcoming Assembly polls for the first time in years.

Here are some of the factors that prove that the threat to Congress' reign in the hill state is palpable:

Five Congress MLAs quit party

Meghalaya polls With 5 MLAs quitting Congress and NPP BJP emerging strong the threat against ruling party is palpable

File image of Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma. Image courtesy: Megipr.gov.in

On 29 December 2017, five MLAs of the ruling Congress, including former deputy chief minister Rowell Lyngdoh, resigned from the state Assembly. The 60-member Meghalaya Assembly now has only 24 Congress MLAs.

Along with the five MLAs, three others, including one from the United Democratic Party (UDP) and two Independents, tendered resignation from the House. Lyngdoh, a veteran Congress leader of the state, later announced that all eight MLAs would join the National People's Party (NPP) at future rallies.

The five Congress legislators who put in their papers had earlier rebelled against Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and the party leadership. Four of the five Congress legislators were part of the state Cabinet, and were sacked by the chief minister in the past on grounds of incompetence. They were joined by party MLA Mlangaitlang Dhar in quitting the Assembly membership.

Lyngdoh said it was a difficult decision to leave the Congress, but he was compelled to do so "because of the people".

Hitting out at Mukul Sangma, the former deputy chief minister said, "The autocratic style of functioning of the chief minister had made it difficult for me and others to function in the government."

He also lashed out at the state Congress president DD Lapang and alleged that he gave in to the diktats of the chief minister, and went ahead to dissolve the block Congress committee in many constituencies, including his. Senior Congress leader and former cabinet minister Prestone Tynsong said the prospects of the Congress in Meghalaya will be badly hit.

The NPP factor

In an interview to News18, senior journalist and editor of The Shillong Times Patricia Mukhim said the real challenge to the chief minister will be posed only by Tura MP and NPP supremo Conrad K Sangma.

Meghalaya polls With 5 MLAs quitting Congress and NPP BJP emerging strong the threat against ruling party is palpable

File image of NPP leader Conrad Sangma. Twitter @sangmaconrad

"The Khasi-Jaintia people seem to have reposed faith in this party, and if you ask me, Conrad Sangma is the only chief ministerial face that can give Mukul Sangma a run for his money," she said.

One of the only regional parties to have gained significant prominence in the last few years has been the NPP. In 2013, the NPP was nearly wiped out of its home base of Garo hills, but five years later, the party finds itself in a much stronger position and could play a key role in the formation of the next government.

"The NPP is the only party that is Northeast-oriented, although it has national aspirations. We are constantly focussing on issues related to the tribal community, besides addressing concerns of the religious minorities. We are also focussing on economic development and are coming out with a vision document. The economic measures have been never seriously implemented in the state," Conrad Sangma told Firstpost last week.

Earlier in January, Conrad Sangma said the NPP would not only emerge as the single largest party but also win single majority in the upcoming Assembly polls.

"Not just that the people have lost faith and confidence in Congress but even their leaders — former chief minister DD Lapang, deputy chief minister Roytre Christopher Laloo, and Health and Family Welfare Minister Roshan Warjri (who have announced their retirement) — are not confident and opted not to contest the elections," he said.

Emergence of BJP

Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has never had a significant stronghold in the state, the party, riding on confidence after sweeping several Assembly polls in the country recently, is targeting the incumbent Congress government's alleged policy paralysis, corruption and ignorance towards development work.

"We will go to people with the slogan that Meghalaya needs change, and that the state should be ridden of corruption and the misrule of the Congress," The New Indian Express quoted BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav as saying.

Much like the rebel MLAs who left the Congress late last year, the BJP too has voiced strong disapproval of the chief minister's work in Meghalaya.

In an interview with FirstpostMeghalaya BJP president Shibun Lyngdoh said, "Mukul Sangma as chief minister doesn't have a good relationship with his own ministers. Ministers call him a dictator. All files go through his table. Due to his approach, so many senior Congress leaders are leaving the party and joining other parties. Sangma has not done anything good for the state. He is busy helping his own family."

Responding to reports that the catholic church is not helping BJP's electoral prospects in this year's election, Lyndoh said, "Propaganda remains propaganda. It will disappear very soon. It is the propaganda of other parties. It has not created difficulties for the BJP. People accept BJP as a development-oriented party. They are happy with the way our president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are leading from the front."

Experts believe if the NPP joins forces with the BJP, of which it is already an ally in the central government, it will help both parties politically. The NPP is also currently supporting the BJP-led government in Manipur.

"There are political compulsions on the ground. Many leaders might not like to give away their seats for others to contest. Partnering is not an easy process," Conrad Sangma said.

Regional political outfits

On Sunday, the UDP exuded confidence that regional outfits would form the next government in Meghalaya. People in Meghalaya have had enough of the Congress and the BJP is yet to gain ground in the state, a senior UDP leader said.

"We are forming the next government and there is no doubt about it. We are leaving no stone unturned to cross the magic number 31 in the 60-member House," UDP working president Paul Lyngdoh said.

After the Congress and NCP, UDP is the third-largest party in the state. For the upcoming elections, it has forged an alliance with Hill State People's Democratic Party and the Garo National Council. The UDP​, like some other regional parties, is against national political outfits forming the government in the state, and believes the "communal" BJP and "cancerous" Congress must not be allowed to come to power.

Although the UDP happens to be a constituent of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), led by the BJP, Paul Lyngdoh feels NEDA is a political platform for the development of Northeast, and not for pre-poll alliances.

Garo National Council president Kalpana D Sangma said she expected her party to win at least five of the six seats in the three districts of South Garo Hills, South West Garo Hills and West Garo Hills.

Congress' chances of forming another government might also depend on the support (or lack of it) of smaller regional parties in Meghalaya. The Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), another regional outfit, said it would support any party that wins maximum number of seats on conditions that issues identified by it in the state get addressed.

"Any party which needs our support will have to understand our issues and agree in principle that they will take it up as its government's agenda," KHNAM working president Adelbert Nongrum said.

With inputs from agencies

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