It goes without saying that all elections often spark off political row. This becomes obvious in states like Meghalaya where politicians are not much known for ideological commitments. The self seeking politicians generally try to make the most of the situation by political defections. But in the run up to Meghalaya, we know—the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been attracting following in a State where it had negligible presence even a year back.
BJP is positive and confident of its grip over the North-eastern State, part of the reason the Party is thinking of going solo in the 2018 Meghalaya Vidhan Sabha polls. The saffron Party is conducting surveys and would take the final call based on that. The Party leaders believe that they are likely to win more votes if they don’t form a coalition with other parties for the upcoming 2018 Meghalaya Legislative Assembly (Vidhan Sabha) election. The saffron Party has extra reason to be confident. After a twin win in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the Party is elated and even aiming high to achieve a target of 40 seats out of 60, as a part of its ‘Mission 40.’ The BJP is ruling in most of the states in India currently and is hoping to oust Congress from this State as well.
BJP’s development plank has actually caught the imagination of the people. Yet the saffron Party has faced with multiple challenges ahead of the February 27 Legislative Assembly elections. Initially, everyone thought that since the Congress Party has been extremely popular in the State and hence the going would be tough for the BJP. The Congress has often tried to make a mountain out of mole hill and raked up issues like beef eating.
But BJP remained focused with its developmental plank and tried to reach out to all sections of people. Politics, as they say, is also an art of the possible. It is sheer determination that can often play game-changer. This is why a perceived ‘pro-Hindu’ BJP has been working overtime for months now trying to win over the voters including Christians and also a large section of tribals—who still follow tribal culture and the socio- religious practices.
The Congress is considered a weak Party and one reason they say is financial crunch compared to BJP’s ‘resourceful’ and a ‘performer’ image. A few months back, State Congress leaders reportedly met All India Congress treasurer Motilal Vohra and complained to him about fund constraints. The Congress Party has been traditionally very popular in the State. However, the incumbent Chief Minister of Congress Mukul Sangma has not yet given up. The Chief Minister is known for being a tough fighter and in the past has successfully given run for money to stalwarts like Purno A Sangma, the former Lok Sabha Speaker and fellow Garo tribal leader.
Therefore, even as the beleaguered Congress leaders in rural pockets and at block levels moved out of Congress and showed interest either to join the saffron Party or the NDA constituent National People’s Party (NPP), the Mukul Sangma camp has indicated locally they could field “new faces” in many constituencies. To an extent, Congress strategists think the anti-incumbency factor could be diluted or neutralised to a large extent.The BJP leaders are aware of this proposed methodology.
In order to thwart attempts by rivals to dismiss the BJP as an anti-Christian Party, the saffron Party leaders have rightly spread a message that in neighbouring Nagaland—way back in 2003 the Party had won as many as seven MLAs on BJP tickets and all were Christians. Moreover, the Naga Christians have shown faith in Prime Minister with regard the Naga peace talks. Moreover, in Goa also, the BJP has in the past able to work out a wonderful social engineering win Christian stronghold seats. In fact, at one point of time, the saffron outfit also had a Christian Deputy Chief Minister in Goa. “We have been working hard and today…. BJP is a force in Meghalaya,” says Shri Nalin Kohli. Giving ‘right message’ to Christians remained a priority for the central BJP leadership as well. Therefore, acting within days of appointment of former bureaucrat Alphons Kannanthanam as Union Minister, BJP president Shri Amit Shah appointed Alphons as the Party’s election in-charge for Meghalaya polls. The move was seen as well thought of as the BJP is determined to make inroads in Meghalaya. Shri Alphons is a Syrian Catholic and a good orator and also is known for his no non-sense administrator image. Now a section in the BJP also try to push a line that if it can make headway in Meghalaya, it is only natural they will move on to—other states with substantial Christian population—Mizoram and Kerala. “The increased acceptability of our party in Meghalaya and states like Mizoram and Nagaland will help it shed its image of a fundamentalist force. We also believe people from Meghalaya by and large and Christians will help the BJP’s image transformation,” asserts a poll campaign strategist in Meghalaya.
Revival of Regionalism Come what may, political observers say in Meghalaya, the regional parties are in demand as BJP still needs to make deeper penetration and for its part confronted with the anti-incumbency wave Congress faces an uphill task while the pro-Hindutva BJP is still looking for roots in the predominantly Christian hub. After belligerent attempts to make deeper penetration, the BJP is also pushing a line that the situation is ripe for a ‘non-Congress’
In terms of media glare, Conrad Sangma of National People’s Party (NPP) will be certainly one leader to be watched, but leaders from other State-based parties should not be underestimated either. As a result, the leaders from People’s Democratic Front (PDF), a fledgling NCP unit, United Democratic Party (UDP) and Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) will be also important players.
“The Assembly elections will relieve the spirit of late legendary regionalist BB Lyngdoh—who used to say regional parties in Meghalaya think and act local but with a national outlook,” said one senior UDP leader. UDP has dropped hints that NPP leader Conrad Sangma may not have ‘cake walk’ in running away with the Chief Minister’s post. In fact, the UPD and HSPDP have already announced their mutual alliance. James Sangma, spokesman of NPP and brother of Conrad Sangma, said, “The ground is now clear for the rejection of the Congress and hence people are jumping ship.” A spokesman of Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) D Jyndiang also said, “The Congress chances of returning to power is bleak.” – Swati Deb