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Games Political Parties play: Meghalaya’s election

By Phrangsngi Pyrtuh

Meghalaya is gearing up for the 2018 assembly elections. This election is like no other elections in the past. One among many reasons is the absence of a Congress led government in Delhi that is already affecting the Congress party with disgruntled members looking for greener pastures. With the Congress being a poor image of itself there are many claimants to the throne in 2018. Political parties are pulling out all stops to ensure their victory. This election will see a pre-poll alliance of two formidable regional parties (UDP and HSPDP) that is bound to have an impact on certain constituencies, a newbie party (PDF) that would bank heavily on the image of the present KHADC CEM and his troubled relationship with his parent party (the Congress); an aggressive BJP that is banking on the ruling leadership from Delhi and the Independents that do not care who wins.  

Meghalaya politics has always been between the Congress Party versus the different regional parties. Going by the by-elections to the KHADC-JHADC held last year, it could well be the same story. New entrant PDF was not in the picture then so we have to wait and see how much impact the new regional party has on the upcoming election. The BJP suffered miserably during the by-elections with many candidates losing their deposits. So we have a prelude of what is in store for the upcoming election.  The Congress is facing anti-incumbency but it faced the same during the 2013 elections when a few months earlier the state was caught up with the ILP issue. Many have written off the Congress at that point but the grand old party sprung a surprise. Credit should be given to the present Chief Minister who managed to steer the party through tough times and is on his way to become the third Chief Minister who completed his full term in politically unstable Meghalaya.

The formation of the UDP-HSPDP alliance sounded the election bugle in Meghalaya. The combined vote share of these parties in certain constituencies should easily see them through and it is possible that the alliance takes the lead in government formation should there be a hung assembly. Had all regional parties come together and formed a grand alliance, the Congress and the BJP would be nowhere in the equation.

The PDF is harping on the anti-Congress rants of PN Syiem who is widely expected to assume leadership of the party. Syiem has a turbulent relationship not only with Dr Mukul Sangma but his parent party.  It is difficult to see the PDF winning majority seats precisely because it is new and does not have a movement or a cadre based organization to create an impact like AAP does in Delhi.

The BJP is hoping to ride on the now waning Modi wave which performed decently during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in the state. But the party got a reality check during the by- elections to the district councils. Communal politics in Meghalaya will not work, as it did in other states with a substantial Hindu population, and that is the bane of the BJP in the state. They have to contend with development agenda that brought Modi to power. However, the BJP in the state is facing problems of a different kind, a making of its own that has sabotaged its development agenda.  

Demonetisation and GST is weakening the BJP’s much hyped development agenda with indicators showing that Demonetisation brought down India’s growth and will do so for some more time. The impact of GST is also likely to be unfavourable when new data comes up.  The government’s failure to tackle unemployment, job generation, black money, inflation etc has taken the sheen off its spectacular victory. Prime Minister Modi had to defend the economic slowdown just last week but the general reaction in the country is pointing to a change in the mood that may turn against the BJP if things are not fixed soon. A decline in the fortunes of the BJP in the country will impact the state unit.

The cattle slaughter ban in May had its repercussion with some prominent BJP members resigning from the party and more others threatening to resign if the ban continues. Thankfully the cattle slaughter ban was stayed by the Supreme Court. But even though the ban has been stopped by the court, the controversy is alive and kicking.  And this has taken away the steam from the BJP in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram where beef is a staple food.

The BJP is facing an uphill task to ameliorate the situation. Recently it raked the coal mining issue, promising to lift the ban by the National Green Tribunal if elected to power. It is a politically motivated move with a view on the seats in Jaintia hills. But lifting the ban is not only feasible it is not possible, something that the gullible voters do not realize. The NGT will not budge unless a strong mining policy is in place. With the ban becoming a legal problem it is only the court that can settle the issue once and for all.

The BJP has also utilized the services of its MPs, Union Minsters et al to mobilize support. Another is to solicit the support of church elders/representatives with regular meetings and parleys. Is this not appeasement politics that the Supreme Court has clearly declared to be illegal in its January ruling?  Personally I have problems with religious leaders meeting political parties for whatever reason. More importantly why are civil society and NGOs not asking questions on what transpires in these meetings? We also need to ask question to the church and religious leaders who partake in these meetings. Surely there is more to it than meets the eye.

The present situation in Meghalaya is not ripe for a single party to form a government on its own. We will likely see a coalition that may involve the Congress or the regional parties. Only time will tell who the electorate finally votes for.


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