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North East polls: NPP has scripted a fairy tale rise from little-known Manipur outfit to regional power player

The National People’s Party (NPP) led by Conrad Sangma, set to head the new coalition government in Meghalaya, has scripted a fairy tale rise from a little-known party in Manipur to a cynosure of electoral politics in North East.

File image of Conrad Sangma. Image courtesy: Team101 Reporters

File image of Conrad Sangma. Image courtesy: Team101 Reporters

From just two seats in 2013 polls in 60-member Meghalaya Assembly, its tally has gone up to 19 and the party has emerged as the major constituent of a new non-Congress coalition government in the hill state. It has also opened its account in Nagaland by winning two seats but it is not clear if it is set to become part of the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party-Bharatiya Janata Party ruling coalition.

In 2017, NPP won four seats in Manipur Assembly polls and became part of the ruling coalition headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The credit for spectacular rise of NPP can be attributed to political vision of Conrad Sangma’s late father and former chief minister and Lok Sabha speaker Purno Agitok Sangma. The NPP originated in Manipur and was recognised by the Election Commission as a state party till 2012 Assembly polls. It was Purno who launched NPP nationally on 5 June, 2013 following his expulsion from Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 2012 when he refused to quit presidential elections.

The NPP, under the leadership of Purno, joined the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). However, Purno’s daughter and former Union minister Agatha Sangma, who was a sitting Member of Parliament from Meghalaya's Tura constituency, continued to be an NCP member to evade anti-defection law. Agatha has now been elected to Meghalaya Assembly on an NPP ticket.

Purno, who was a Congress veteran for major part of his political career, foresaw that while the influence of regional parties in North East was declining, fresh hope to counter the Congress could only be generated through an alternative “national party” focussed on regional issues. It is with this vision, and in a bid to provide an alternative to the Congress, that he launched the NPP nationally.

In 2014, Purno contested from Tura constituency on NPP ticket and was elected to Parliament for his ninth term. In 2015, he steered NPP to a huge victory in election to the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council. His party won 10 seats in the tribal autonomous council and pushed Congress to second position (7 seats).

The NPP’s win spree continued. After Purno passed away in March 2016, Conrad was elected as NPP president. Conrad contested from Tura constituency in 2016 by-election and won by a huge margin of 1,92,212 votes. He polled 3,29,497 votes while his rival Dikanchi D Shira, the wife of outgoing Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma polled 1,37,285 votes.

The NPP polled more votes in 23 of the 24 Assembly segments in Tura. This was a spectacular gain for the NPP from 2013 Assembly polls — when it managed to win only two seats in 60-member Assembly and polled 8.81 percent votes, both victories coming from Garo Hills — and signalled the growing popularity of NPP in Garo Hills.

However, in Meghalaya, its image continued to be that of a party having its influence limited to Garo Hills. However, NPP’s victory in four seats of the 60-member Manipur Assembly in 2017 and the party becoming a partner of the BJP-led ruling coalition in Manipur bolstered the party’s confidence. Conrad declared the party would have its own chief minister in Meghalaya.

In this Assembly polls, the party’s vote share went up to 20.6 percent. The party won 11 out of 24 seats in Garo Hills and pushed Congress to second place. NPP also won eight seats in Khasi Hills, which reflected its expanding influence.

Ever since Meghalaya was created in 1972, Congress always emerged as the single largest party in all Assembly polls. This time was no different. However, for the electorate, the NPP succeeded in creating a new narrative: Of another “national party” to take on Congress and which may soon replace the Grand Old Party.

Conrad, who has a background in finance and management from Wharton Business School in United States, steered the party to this influential position in Meghalaya and Manipur in bid to realise the dreams of his father. In Nagaland, the party reiterated its commitment to an alliance with Naga People’s Front (NPF) which won 27 out of 59 seats. Nagaland governor PB Acharya has given time to both NPF and the BJP-National Democratic People’s Party alliance led by former chief minister Neiphiu Rio to prove majority after both staked their claim to form a new government.

The NPP is a member of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), formed at the behest of BJP, and is therefore sharing power with the BJP and its allies in Meghalaya and Manipur. With its wings spreading to three North East states, the NPP has emerged as a major constituent of the NEDA. And if it keeps expanding its sphere of influence, it won't be surprising if it replaces BJP as the dominant constituent of NEDA.

The author is a senior journalist and editor of NEZINE.

Updated Date: Mar 05, 2018 19:23 PM

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