In Meghalaya, is the ‘battle’ of Sangmas heading to an ‘alliance’ of Sangmas?

Even as campaigning ends on Saturday in the state, no clear winner is there on the horizon

Via Twitter
Via Twitter

Nilova Roychaudhury

The Prime Minister’s road show in Shillong and two election rallies, besides a public meeting addressed by Rahul Gandhi, may have been the high points in Meghalaya this week, but are unlikely to influence the poll outcome. Observers believe both the national parties will end up winning seats in single digits in the 60-member Assembly, with regional parties splitting the rest.

The BJP, which had two MLAs in the House, and the AITC, which had gained most of the 17 INC MLAs who were elected last time but joined AITC in November last year, are expected to improve their tally.

The INC may have erred, say observers, by concentrating on criticising the BJP and the Prime Minister. They were less important and urgent issues in the state. In contrast, union home minister Amit Shah, who caused a stir by describing Meghalaya as the most corrupt state, got more talked about because he cited examples and accused the previous government of failure to set up a single medical college in the last five years. It is a different issue that BJP was also part of the NPP-led government.  

By all accounts, the role of cash and alcohol have not diminished with many potential voters seen dancing with their windfall gains. The final week of the campaign moved away from the civility of the earlier weeks, when discourses were more sober and concentrated on issues important to the voters, with little or no name-calling. Once the Tripura polls ended, high profile campaigners from all parties descended on Meghalaya, raising the tenor of electioneering to increasingly rancorous levels while outdoing each other in making promises of development.

Campaigning for the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday held a road show in Shillong culminating in a rally in Central Shillong’s Police Bazaar, followed by a public rally in South Tura constituency in the Garo Hills region, from where the BJP state vice-president Bernard Marak is contesting against the sitting Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, the National People’s Party (NPP) candidate. Sangma was a BJP ally in the Meghalaya Development Alliance (MDA) government until they parted ways in November 2022. Directly targeting Sangma, PM Modi said a few family dynasties were using the state’s coffers as ATMs to perpetuate their rule and corruption.

Patricia Mukhim, Editor of the Shillong Times, Meghalaya’s largest English daily, says “Shah’s speech was electrifying because he had the figures and examples as ready reckoners. While he spoke of the benefits of a “double-engine government,” he raised issues which had a connect with local people, including the acute shortage of doctors in the state.”

Recalling a BJP candidate, who claimed at a public meeting that he could enter directly into the Prime Minister’s kitchen because, as a BJP member, ‘he was like the PM’s youngest son’, Mukhim exclaimed, “it makes one wonder if people have temporarily taken leave of their senses”.

Rahul Gandhi on his visit to Shillong on Wednesday, carried on in the ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ mode and spoke how RSS and the BJP were attempting to attack and destroy the culture, tradition and religion of the people in the state. “I come here with humility, wearing this jacket as a symbol of respect for you, your ancestors, and everyone who lives in this state. By doing so, I will leave Meghalaya with wisdom, understanding, and affection,” he said. A section of Congress supporters were disappointed though and felt he could have spoken more on his vision for development of the state and dealt with real issues, which would have enthused the party cadres more.

Veteran journalists including Mukhim and Manas Chaudhury, with their intimate knowledge of the dynamics in each constituency, predicted that ruling NPP’s tally will be around  17 or so.

If their guesstimates turn out to be correct, then NPP and AITC appear more likely to have the numbers to play ‘king makers’. In the event of another hung House and a fractured mandate, losers will be the people of Meghalaya, which sorely needs a  governance model that will provide hope and a brighter future to the state’s youth and those who are increasingly getting marginalised.

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