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The Meghalaya Assembly Battle: Can Congress retain the state?

While the ruling Congress has been surrounded by the clouds of corruption charges against the government, BJP is putting all its might in Meghalaya. On the other hand, regional parties too, enjoy the majority of vote share.


Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s recent visited the North-Eastern Indian state of Meghalaya remained mostly controversial. Under the leadership of Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, Meghalaya is one of the few states that Congress is still ruling over.  Congress in 2017, lost Himachal Pradesh to BJP which after the Gujarat and Himachal win is the largest party in the nation ruling over 19 states in the country.

This year, two of the remaining bastions of Congress are going to polls and Congress is putting all its might in the assembly elections. But definitely, it is not a cakewalk for the party.

In this month itself, three north-east states are going for elections. The polling in Meghalaya is scheduled to be held on February 27. The bordering state has a total population around 29,66,889 as per the 2011 Census; out of which Scheduled Tribes population is the largest with 2,555,861 persons and 17,355 people from the Scheduled Castes. The communities predominate the politics of the state as well.

A majority of the population the hill state Meghalaya is Christian (74.59 percent) followed by Hindus (11.53 percent), Muslims (4.40 percent), Buddhists (0.33 percent), Sikhs (0.10 percent), and Jains (0.02 percent) as per the Census 2011 report. The Christian population in the state too has an impact on the politics of the region.

Congress in Meghalaya:

Meghalaya CM Mukul Sangma during a rally at West Garo Hills

After carving out from Assam, Meghalaya was granted semi-autonomous status in 1970. However, it received autonomous status in 1972, also the year in which the state went for polling for the first time. In total the state has seen eleven Chief ministers, six of them were from Congress. The first CM of the state Williamson A Sangma too was from Congress. Thus, we can safely say that Congress enjoys a strong voter base here.

However, this time the battle is going to be tough for the party. It has to fight the problems on two fronts. While the Congress is facing defeat in almost every other state of India, in Meghalaya, the issue of defection has galloped the party. Just a few months before the assembly elections five MLAs defected and joined National People’s Party. NPP is an ally of BJP-led NDA.

The defection row forced Congress President Rahul Gandhi to replace the state President of the party. Celestine Lyngdoh graced the post replacing DD Lapang. The party also needs to fight the anti-incumbency of almost 10 years.

The Sangma government has been tainted by the allegations of corruption. The BJP is majorly tapping on the issue.

BJP in Meghalaya:

Union Minister K J Alphons presenting “chargesheet” of Congress corruption in Meghalaya

While Congress has created and nurtured its stronghold in the hill state, BJP is yet to taste success in the state. The BJP has rested the election responsibility of Meghalaya on shoulders of Union Tourism Minister K J Alphons.

Till 1993, the party had not contested any election in Meghalaya. In 1993, BJP though contested, lost the election. In 2008, the party’s vote share was 1.27%, which did not show any fluctuation in 2013 as well. On the other hand, Congress’ vote share went up from 32.9 to 34.78.

However, BJP is putting all possible resources in the election this time. The BJP has accused the Congress of corruption in the state. During his rally in the state, Amit Shah also called the Mukul Sangma government as the “Most corrupt”. The BJP also came up with a charge sheet against the Congress government.

On Thursday BJP released a 38-point “charge sheet” against the ruling Congress. The charge sheet named Public Works Department Minister, Ampareen Lyngdoh for her involvement in the teachers and police recruitment scam, while Congress Minister Clement Marak was also accused of being involved in the 2016 sugar scam. The BJP also named former Congress legislator Stanly Wiss Rymbai in the Rs. 8 crore land scam in Ri-Bhoi district. One of the grave charges levied by BJP was against independent candidate Julius Dorphang of running a sex-racket at the guest house owned by Home Minister H.D.R. Lyngdoh’s son Nathaniel Osbert Rymbai.

However, the setback for BJP will be its Hindutva agenda. Though BJP state chief has cleared the air around the beef ban in the state, the policy of the party elsewhere in the country might make the voters rethink their choices. Also, the antichristian campaign led by some right-wing group may also affect the BJP.

Other regional parties:  

conrad sangma welcoming Nagaland Congress leaders to NPP

If political observers are to be believed, it is not BJP who will give a tough fight to Congress but United Democratic Party led by former loksabha speaker P A Sangma’s son Conrad Sangma. The party chief Conrad K Sangma expressed his confidence to win the upcoming elections and replace the Congress government in Meghalaya. “NPP would not be the single largest party but the single majority in the 2018 election.”

In 2013, UDP emerged as the second largest party with 8 seats and vote share of 17.11%. Ahead of polls, UDP has joined hands with Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) and the Garo National Council (GNC). The UDP  is against both the national parties ruling the state. It believes that the regional parties will this time win the state.

There are certain key issues plaguing the state. Unemployment is one of them. The National Green Tribunal ban on coal mining in the state in 2014 has left the people in lower income group jobless. The unemployment has increased in the state in absence of alternative occupation to coal mining. The drug Abuse is another big issue. The Health and education infrastructure in the state is also in laggard. While the insurgency in the state has reduced significantly, it still remains one of the major challenges in front of the government. The Sangma government has to address all the issues to convince people to vote for them. On the other hand, BJP has promised a “surprising upward swing”.

Now, it remains to be seen whether the North-Eastern state chooses the saffron party or give another term to Congress.

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