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Rebellion in the BJP and the dwindling of Independent candidates in Meghalaya politics

By H H Mohrmen

The BJP candidates have filed their nominations to the 60-member House of the Meghalaya State Legislative Assembly and are campaigning in their respective constituencies but, it is definitely not going to be cakewalk for the party on two counts. The BJP this time around will face an uphill task to win as many seats as its leaders have hoped to and now the other unusual development is the diminishing numbers of independent candidates in the fray for the ensuing elections. The number of independent candidates is decreasing particularly in the Khasi and Jaintia hills region of the state.

What the Congress has experienced in the last few months is what the BJP is only experiencing now after the it published the names of candidates contesting on its party tickets. The Congress saw the defection of its legislators and leaders to the other parties before the election but lately we also saw the exodus of BJP rebel candidates who were denied party tickets and decided to contest the election as independents or as candidates of other parties.

The decision of the BJP rebel candidates to contest against the official candidates of the party will be a major challenge for the BJP to win as many seats as it had hoped to.  The BJP’s decision to delay the announcement of its candidates is another reason which will affect its performance in the coming election. In fact the BJP is not only the last of all the parties to make public the names of its candidates but the delay which compelled the party to publicize the list only after the election to the state assembly was announced is going to hit the party hard.

In the constituencies where there are two or more contenders for the party ticket, by the time candidates are informed that they have been selected as the official candidate of the party, it is already time for them to prepare their papers for filling their nominations. Candidates of other parties who have made their list public well ahead of time have ample time to plan their election strategies and visit their constituencies even before they filed their nomination papers. In the case of the BJP candidates they are late starters hence it will be a challenging task for them to beat the other candidates who have run the race much ahead of them.

The BJP leadership thought they played their cards well when they delayed the announcement of the list of candidates from the Party. They thought it would prevent those who were denied tickets from contesting the election by jumping to some other party. But as predicted in this column earlier, the first candidate to rebel and also quit the party and to join another party to contest the election is  none other than the sister of Shibun Lyngdoh President of the BJP in Meghalaya. Violet Lyngdoh the lone female Member in the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council joined the Conrad Sangma led National People’s Party and immediately filed her nomination papers as candidate of the party from the coal-rich Khliehriat Constituency. Violet also claimed that she had worked for the party and nurtured the constituency. With her leaving the BJP more than thirty booth level and mandal units in the constituency were also dissolved. They have joined the NPP en-mass.

But Khliehriat is not the only constituency where the BJP has suffered a major jolt after the party ticket was allotted to another candidate. When the BJP decided to allot the party ticket to the former MLA Sanbor Shullai who only recently joined the party, the other contender who had joined the party much earlier was denied the party ticket. Manas Choudhuri former Cabinet Minister in the government of Meghalaya claimed that he had built the party in the constituency from the grass roots level and naturally felt humiliated that the ticket was given to a rank newcomer. He decided to quit the party and rejoined the Congress (from which he had quit a few months back) and filed his nomination to contest the election as the party’s candidate from the prestigious Shillong South constituency.  

In another prestigious constituency the delay to decide on the party ticket has put the candidate Marki  Mulieh member of Jaintia Hills Autonomus District Council under tremendous pressure because it is not going to be easy for him to cover the more than fifty polling stations of Jowai constituency in a short span of time. The other contender to the party ticket was none other than his own uncle Sing Mulieh former cabinet minister in the state. But even if unlike other contenders the senior Mulieh may not join the fray and contest the election from some other Party, his support to his nephew is crucial for Marki. If Sing Mulieh decides to not support the junior Mulieh then it will be a tough fight for Marki to win the prestigious seat.

Similarly the BJP suffered a pre-poll revolt in the different constituencies in the Garo hills where party workers resigned en-mass just because their leader were denied party ticket to contest the coming election. Most of the BJP contenders resigned from the party and are contesting as independent candidates. Senior BJP leader and party’s state vice president Edmund K. Sangma filed his nomination as independent candidate from Raksamgre constituency against Jonathan Rabha the BJP nominee. Another rebel BJP candidate is Chiang D. Shira who resigned from the party and filed his nomination as independent candidate for North Tura constituency. Besides Sangma and Shira another rebel candidate is Rahinath Barchung who is contesting against the BJP official nominee K.C. Boro for Tikrikilla constituency. 

The BJP leadership needs to work extra hard if they are to win more than five seats in the coming election to the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly. In the prevailing situation it looks like it will be a challenge to win as many seats as it leaders have hoped for and it would need more than the Modi magic for the BJP to cross the single digit mark in the next house.

Another unusual development in the pre-election scenario this time is the decreasing numbers of independent candidates contesting in the election. In the 2013 election Jaintia hills elected Stephen Mukhim, Hopeful Bamon, Robinus Syngkon and Justine Dkhar as independent candidates to the august house, but this time around all the elected MLAs joined different parties and are contesting the election on party tickets. There must be a reason for the above mentioned representatives who have won as independents candidates to decide to join different political parties. That there are very less or no candidates contesting the election as independent candidates is a development which needs to be taken seriously.

The decreasing numbers of independent candidates particularly in Jaintia is a good sign and it will be good for democracy in the long run because most of the time the independent MLAs are the cause of instability in the government. In fact the presence of large numbers of independent candidates is also a major factor which encourages horse trading in the government formation. In a situation where in all probability the state will have a coalition government; the fact that there are less contenders who will fight as independent candidates will go a long way in strengthening democracy in Meghalaya.  

On one hand the decreasing numbers of independent MLAs is going to be good for the state but the very fact that we have many small parties which have mushroomed in the state will again be the factors of instability in the state because in case of a hung assembly the small parties with few MLAs will be king makers in the government formation in Meghalaya.    

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