Broken patches, potholes and numerous bumps fill the roads. Travels in rural Meghalaya give one an accurate idea about official and political neglect. Dilapidated roads and public buildings greet visitors in many places in both Garo and Khasi hills regions.
Talk to faceless everyday voters; of course, they say, the Congress party has been responsible for the lack of development. Bill Charlie Sangma works in a bank and points out that the regional parties, including the ruling NPP, have been no better in the last four years and a half. “Where from the NPP getting money to contest elections in Manipur, Nagaland or Karnataka? What is more important, should a party like NPP become a national party or should it focus on good governance and corruption-free administration in Meghalaya?” asks Sangma.
That’s not all; many analysts and keen political observers say the centre has other reasons too to be ‘unhappy’ with NPP chief Conrad Sangma, the incumbent Chief Minister. Some BJP workers in Shillong say that while the saffron party has supported Conrad’s Government and the centre also allocated funds liberally, “development did not reach people”. “Had the performance of the MDA Government under Conrad been satisfactory, the BJP-NPP bond would have been much stronger today. The NPP leaders took BJP for granted, and at the same, they were arrogant,” says one BJP booth worker.
Fast-tracking development is the mantra of BJP leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi; they underline that the saffron party will contest the fast-approaching elections alone. “Last time, we won two seats. This time we will try to win as many seats as we can,” said Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is also the convener of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA).
In the words of M Chuba Ao, BJP national vice president and in-charge Meghalaya, the Christians in the Northeast and elsewhere in the country have made rich contributions in “national building, especially in education and health sectors”. He argues that the BJP, guided by the Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas spirit of PM Narendra Modi, strictly follows inclusive politics. Thus, unlike in the past, the local Christian voters are now inching closer to the saffron party.
Many Christian leaders in Meghalaya see their people backing the BJP only in the hope of a better future – good job prospects and infrastructure developments. Indeed, many Christians have joined the BJP, and many are seeking a chance to contest elections on BJP tickets too.
Even Congress leaders in Meghalaya say the fundamental issues before people in the context of elections are jobs and infrastructure development. “Thanks to the NPP regime in the last four and half years, instead of moving forward, people are going backwards. One hundred rupees in Shillong can at best get me half a piece of butter and two slices of bread today. Rates of inflation are so high,” says Congress candidate from East Shillong Manuel Badwar, 42.
As the election nears, Meghalaya voters may turn to the BJP as they are tired of corruption after two terms with Congress in power between 2008 and 2018 and one term under NPP chief Conrad Sangma since 2018.
Of course, the Congress party aims to make a comeback after a gap of five years as it had lost the 2018 polls. Before 2018, the BJP held just two seats in the 60-member House. The present House, too, has two MLAs, one of which is a Minister in the Conrad Sangma-led ministry.
Importantly, says analyst David Martin, the issues before Meghalaya’s three million people, 75 per cent of them Christians, revolve around people’s basic needs and governmental corruption blocking development.
People in Meghalaya and perhaps elsewhere in the Northeast region know that gross failures by the Congress to provide expected development and a corruption-free administration have been responsible for the BJP’s advances in these seven states, including the only three Christian-majority states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya.
“People in the Northeast had in the past trusted Congress for decades but the grand old party let everyone down. Hence there is an increase in Christian support for the BJP. Do not forget, with the clear backing of Christians, the BJP is part of ruling coalitions in Nagaland and also in Goa, where a third of the population is Christian,” says student Manolin Rynghang.
Of course, BJP strategists for Meghalaya do not miss the point that the increased acceptability of the party in Meghalaya and also in states such as Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, will help the BJP’s image build-up and preparation on the ground, especially for the 2024 General Elections.