Saffron Threat for Meghalaya Congress

Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma t

‘Grand Old Party’ may be in denial to recognize rising graph of BJP but Congress party workers are finding it hard to pacify voters ire caused by non-performance of Mukul Sangama

By DANFES

“The most important thing is to get rid of the most corrupt government. That is the big priority,” told Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Culture, and Tourism Alphons Kannanthanam, who is also the BJP election in-charge for the upcoming Meghalaya Assembly Election.

As Meghalaya votes on 27 February to elect its new Assembly, the quietness of the hills and the winter cold have slowly given away to noisy campaigns and rising political heat.

Looking at the 2013 Assembly poll performance, Congress contested all 60 seats in Meghalaya and polled 34.78 percent votes winning 29 seats while the BJP contested 13 seats and lost its deposit in all 13 seats polling only 1.27 percent votes. However, five years since, things have changed drastically for both parties. BJP has literally captured the national scene under the leadership of PM Modi and President Amit Shah. In the last couple of years, the Congress is completely on the defensive leave alone letting out a big offensive.

JOLT TO CONGRESS

Just ahead of the state election, five Congress legislators including former deputy chief minister Rowell Lyngdoh, former cabinet ministers Prestone Tynsong, Coming One Ymbon, Sniawbhalang Dhar and Ngaitlang Dhar resigned as MLAs and left the party to join the NDA-affiliate National People’s Party (NPP). The jolt was such that it immediately prompted Congress president Rahul Gandhi to replace state Congress president and former chief minister DD Lapang with Celestine Lyngdoh with less than two months for the polls. Celestine Lyngdoh was also appointed the president of the 13-member Pradesh Election Committee.

“We will try as much as we can. Less time for the elections doesn’t mean that we will surrender,” said Celestine Lyngdoh adding, “Everything is alright. These people have left the party for their own selfish interest. They feel with the BJP at the Centre they are safer.”

Congress Lok Sabha MP from Shillong Vincent H Pala took these defections in the party’s stride citing, “I don’t expect people to leave. But many more are joining. But these things happen during election time.”

In a reprieve to the party which lost seven MLAs in quick succession to other parties, independent legislators — Brigady Marak, Ashahel D Shira, Michael Sangma and David Nongrum—had already applied for party ticket while NCP legislator Marthon Sangma also shifted allegiance to the Congress.

CORRUPTION CHARGES

Apart from the defections what the Congress should worry about is the numerous allegations of corruption against the Mukul Sangma government. Those in the Congress, however, believe to the contrary.

“Allegations don’t prove charges. Why don’t people use the RTI instead of putting wild allegations? We have the courts. They should go to the court. If they have proof they should file an FIR. All these charges are baseless,” said Celestine Lyngdoh taking a potshot at the BJP without naming it.

Coming at an inopportune time for the Congress, the CBI on the orders of the Meghalaya High Court booked PWD Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh and additional chief secretary PS Thangkhiew for alleged irregularities during recruitment of teachers for lower primary schools in 2008-09. Ampareen Lyngdoh was the state education minister during the period. Following the CBI case, there is a buzz that she might go over to the BJP camp which the PWD Minister vehemently denied. She represents East Shillong constituency.

ANTI-INCUMBENCY THREAT

Another allegation that the Mukul Sangma-led Congress government is facing is the lack of development in the last five years. Congress obviously chose to differ on this opinion. As per comptroller and auditor general (CAG) of India, the fiscal deficit for the state is estimated to be at Rs 818.26 crore at the end of FY18.

“The lack of development is only a perception. Meghalaya is far developed than the other states in the region,” Pala said.

NGT BAN ON COAL MINING

A National Green Tribunal order on 17 April, 2014 banning coal mining which “had directed the authorities to ensure that Rat hole mining and illegal mining is stopped forthwith throughout the State of Meghalaya, as well as the illegal transportation of coal does not take place” has gradually burgeoned into a political issue apart from being an environmental one. Located in the Jaintia Hills, the sudden ban on coal mining brought gloom to the lives of coal-miners as they went jobless overnight. Although many shifted to turmeric farming gradually, the Congress is likely to be on a sticky wicket in the seven constituencies of the region because of the NGT decision.

“The NGT ban was not brought by the Congress. We have done enough to help the affected people. The matter is now sub-judice. I can’t talk much,” said Celestine Lyngdoh. The Shillong MP said that Meghalaya was not the only state to suffer because of the NGT ban on coal mining.

RISE OF BJP

Apart from reasons that make anti-incumbency a big risk for the Mukul Sangma government, the rise of the BJP in the last five years is only making matters hard for the Congress. However, the Congress state unit refused to see BJP as a threat at all.

“BJP will not get more than two seats. They will have to work hard even to get that,” the state Congress president said claiming that the Congress would remain in power. He went on to take on the BJP for allegedly imposing its ideologies on eating habits in other parts of the country while referring to the beef ban.

“We are safe. But what they are doing elsewhere is a lesson for us. They are interfering with religion. People are neither accepting the ideologies of the BJP nor their style of politics. We are also not worried about the rallies by (BJP president Amit Shah) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” said Celestine Lyngdoh. Modi is likely to address three rallies in the three hill regions of the poll-bound state. The challenge for the Congress is getting bigger as the NCP also chose to junk its alliance partner in order to fight the elections alone.

No matter what the Congress leaders say in public but in their heart of hearts, they know that the BJP threat is for real and can’t be ignored. Without an incredible defense, Kannanthanam’s “big priority” will come true on 3 March — the counting day — and the Congress will fall from a height far higher than the Shillong Peak.