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Fate Of Regional Parties in Meghalaya

By Barnes Mawrie

Way back in the 1970s there was a laudable regional party in Meghalaya known as the All Party Hill Leaders’ Conference (APHLC) which unfortunately merged with the Congress in 1976. This party came into existence with a very noble and praiseworthy cause, namely, to demand separate statehood for the Khasi-Pnar and Garo People. The immediate reason behind this was the Assam Government’s draconian law of enforcing Assamese language on all hill peoples. This regional party remained active and effective for some years but finally the human factors played a role in destroying it. Since the demise of APHLC, Meghalaya has seen the mushrooming of innumerable regional parties. Every time an assembly election is in the offing, a new party is born. The latest arrival on the political scenario is the People’s Democratic Front (PDF) founded and led by the rebel Congress MLA, Mr. P. N. Syiem.  Unlike in other states in India where regional parties have established themselves as reliable alternatives for national parties, in Meghalaya instead, regional parties have discredited themselves and proven unreliable. In Tamilnadu we have two formidable regional parties, the DMK and the AIADMK with 37 MPs in the Lok Sabha. In Odisha we have the BJD with 20 MPs in the Lok Sabha. In UP we have prominent regional parties like the SP and the BSP. These regional parties have established their credentials even at the national level and are able to synchronize regionalism with nationalism. They have laudable political goals and they strive to be loyal to the people of their particular states. Moreover, these parties are situated in state with huge populations and consequently they have a sizable representation in Parliaments. In Indian politics where numbers count, these regional parties become powerful mouthpieces for their respective peoples of their states in national politics.

Coming to Meghalaya, we see a very bleak future for our regional parties. Meghalaya counts for nothing both in economics and politics at the national scenario. We are not a significant economic power unlike Assam and other states in India. Politically, Meghalaya has just 3 MP seats in the Lok Sabha while Assam at least has 14 seats. What is 3 in the midst of 545 MPs, 80 of whom come from UP, 29 from MP, 40 from Bihar and 48 from Maharashtra alone. The voice of Meghalaya is so feeble and it would be feebler still if it is the voice of a regional party. Economically Meghalaya has nothing to boast of. There are no industries, no large scale agriculture or horticulture, no corporate investments etc. The only scope perhaps for the state’s income is tourism (eco-tourism and cultural tourism), but unfortunately, even this opportunity is squandered away due to lack of planning and investment. Meghalaya is still a baby tied to its mother’s apron string. It has to depend totally on the generosity of the central government. De facto the central government (be it the Congress or BJP) would care a hoot about a regional party with so little political significance. Experience has shown that when a regional party is in power, there has been little inflow of financial assistance from the centre and this cripples development in the state. A regional party at the North-east regional level would be the ideal one. Such a party would mean that we could have 26 seats in the Lok Sabha and that would be a very significant number. With such a number political bargaining would be possible. But how far can this dream be realized only God knows. However, it is not an impossible thing, perhaps one day a great statesman would emerge in our region to bring together our political leaders under one banner.

As of today, regional parties in Meghalaya and in other hill states have a very bleak future. Politically they are toothless and economically they are not viable. Voting them to power would be almost suicidal, for, up to now none of them has been inspiring in the manner they function. The frequent splitting of parties and the unscrupulous change of allegiance of party members, is so disheartening to us that it would be sheer stupidity to invest in these parties. The only salvation for our state is to choose a national party so that development can be facilitated. After all, Meghalaya is still an underdeveloped state and we still need badly the financial support of the central government. However, we need politicians who have a conscience for right and wrong, politicians who possess a certain degree of patriotism and regionalism and who are committed to the welfare of the people and the state. Leaders with such calibre would make a great difference to the state even if they are affiliated to the national party.

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