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Government after a fractured mandate

By H H Mohrmen

As expected the 2018 general election to the state assembly was a vote for a coalition government and it also brings in many surprises with it. That Dr Mukul Sangma won both the seats he had contested is not a surprise at all but the fact that his entire family members except one won the election is an indication of the kind of politics that this election brought to the fore. We not only see the rising of the two Sangma dynasties from Garo hills in Meghalaya politics but there is also the Dhar family that have won three out of four seats they have contested. And of course the father-son duo David Nongrum and Charles Pyngrope is another dynasty in the making.

The fact that we now have increasing numbers of families with business interests in the assembly is another reason to worry but apart from that we also see that many candidates with business backgrounds have been elected in this particular term of the house. Will this be good or bad for the state? We will have to wait for another five years to get the answer and we are only in the second day of the five year term.

But before trying to see how the arithmetic would work, it may not be out of place to say that the assembly 2018- 23 is going to be quieter this time around because almost all the MLAs who are also good debaters have lost the election. Paul Lyngdoh, Ardent Basaiawmoit, Jemino Mawthoh the three stalwarts of regional parties have lost the election. It was the shock of a lifetime for those who avidly follow the proceedings in the august house.

One has to wait and see if the MLA who defeated the leaders would be able to match the oratory skills of the three former MLAs, but certainly the house will be quieter the next five years because there are many first timers too. The three leaders which also includes P N Syiem, the CEM of KHADC were also seen as those who are in the forefront of the advocacy for the cause of the Jaitbynriew. So are we then seeing the gradual loss of steam of the movement for protection of the Jaitbynriew?  To put it more bluntly, is identity politics a lost cause? 

The parties and particularly the leaders of the parties which made ILP or protection of the tribal interest an important part in their party manifesto have lost in the election or their parties have not performed that well, hence the outcome of the election also questions the relevance of this particular issue. The people’s mandate is out and it is obvious that the voters do not consider it important and they are not at all interested in the issue any longer.  

The other pertinent question is; are we seeing the end of regional party politics? One may argue that this time around the tally of the seats won by the regional parties has increased because UDP has won 6 seats, PDF – 4, HSPDP – 2 and the lone KHNAM won the Shillong North seat, but the very fact that three major national parties have made inroads into the state’s political sphere should be a reason to worry for the regional parties. The success (big way) of at least two major parties in the state assembly election will have an impact on the very existence of regional parties in the state. So this should also be a driving force on decision of the regional parties for the kind of alliance they would enter into in forming the next government.  

The other factor that could lead to the decline of regional party politics is also the most important element in this election. National parties spent crores of money organising election campaigns across the state and an unaccounted cache of money also changed hands during this election. Regional parties are not only poor but they do not have a stable source of income either; so obviously they will not be able to match the money power that the national parties have. Look at the way the campaign was structured this year. All the major national parties organised mega rallies which would cost the political parties a bomb and the poor regional parties’ campaign is of very low profile in nature.

Add to that the fact that leaders of these national parties traversed throughout the state using chartered choppers or private jets and the regional parties will never be able to afford that kind of luxury. This new trend or rather this new style of campaign will make running for any office in the future an expensive proposition which the regional parties will have to compete with.

It could also be a well thought out plan that it was designed in such a way that from now onwards only people with big bank balances can contest the election. Or in the future only candidates with the support of those with money can win the election. It is also pretty obvious that the voters in the state did not vote based on issues and neither did they vote on a party lines otherwise we would not have seen a fractured mandate as we see now.

The other lesson to learn from this election is also the fact that election manifestos are not important at all and perhaps it is because of this very reason that the Indian National Congress released its manifesto only on February 24 – technically the last day for campaign because February 25 was a Sunday. The Congress knew that it is a mere election formality and it will not in any way have any impact on the performance of the party and indeed it has not, because the party has performed better than expected.

We also learned that people vote only to win and nothing else matters in between, for them. Their responsibility as voters end on the last dance they had on the day their candidate won the election. Their democratic responsibility is only to vote in the election and to see that their candidate wins and the festivity during election time is a bonus. The moment the MLA has won the election, they part ways only to meet again after five years. Democratic responsibility of the people is therefore a one month long affair only. There is no opportunity for the public representatives to engage with their constituents and neither would they question or criticise their representatives because their democratic responsibility started with the election and it also ends there.   

This public attitude is also the driving force in the government formation this time around. Since the voters consider that their role ends on the counting day, the MLA has a free hand on government formation. Forget issues and principles and to hell with the manifestos; they would not even consult their constituents before they enter into alliance with any party to form the government.

Hence with the kind of numbers we have; anything can happen these coming two three days. The coalition can go INC-21-1 (20) (since Dr Mukul Sangma won from two seats), along regional alliance (UDP -6 and HSPDP-2) and one KHNAM which will give them a perfect 30. Independent MLAs will join with any group that have the numbers and this will also be an easy alliance to manage. Or it could also go other way round and that is NPP- 19 along with the regional combine which comes to nine and in this arrangement they will run short of two to reach the magic figure. 

With 13 MLAs in total the regional combine which comprises of UDP, HSPDP, KHNAM and PDF can be a force to reckon with, but if we look at it the other way round NPP with BJP its NDA ally of 2 MLAs then the total exceeds the Congress total by one MLA. So the NPP can work on the same formula with the regional combine -13; but that will be a difficult alliance since there are too many political bigwigs to cater to if they can at all come to such a combination. Whatever the coalition that emerges the five years are crucial for the regional parties because a wrong coalition will only see them wiped out the next election.

No doubt coming up with the required numbers will be easy but keeping the coalition will be a challenge for the party which leads it. Therefore whatever the formula that the parties arrive at, the state needs a stable government which delivers. Certainly the people of the state do not want to see a change of government every now and then. That will be a huge price to pay for voting for a fractured mandate.

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