The Northeastern State of Meghalaya, which is slated to go to the polls in early 2023 has seen a series of continuous political churnings since the last assembly elections in 2018. The politics of this small state, which forms part of seven sister states of the Northeast, has been in the headlines with many of its legislatures switching sides in an act of rampant political opportunism. The legislators of the state assembly changed their political parties and shifted their political ideologies accordingly to suit the power equations in the state.
The Grand old party of India, the Indian National Congress emerged as the single largest party in the Meghalaya assembly elections in 2018 but the Congress with a tally of 21 seats fell short of reaching the magical number in the 60-member legislature. Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party won 19 seats while the Bhartiya Janata Party moved from the zilch in 2013 assembly to two seats. The BJP outmaneuvered the grand old party and played a pivotal role in stitching up a mega alliance with the National People Party (NPP) leading the coalition along with the others. The Indian National Congress finally propped up as the main opposition party in the assembly.
The political landscape of the state further changed in November 2021 when 12 Congress MLAs including Meghalaya’s former CM Mukul Sangma joined the TMC. Congress which emerged as the single largest party in the 2018 assembly elections lost even the tag of principal opposition party. The same congress that allegedly attacked BJP of toppling the elected governments in other states faced a humiliating erosion in yet another state.
Here one of the sayings of Pericles aptly describes the actions of the Congress high command which in turn decided the congress’s fate in several states. As Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you”, the Congress leadership seemed unaware of the happenings in the state. Mukul Sangma the erstwhile senior congress leader being the leader of the congress legislature party had been in discomfort since August 2021 due to some appointments in the Meghalaya Congress. The rumours turned into the truth when Sangma shifted to the TMC. The rumours of Sangma being upset due to the appointment of Shillong MP Vincent Pala as the State Congress President sidelining Celestine Lyngdoh turned into the reality eventually. The central leadership of the Congress being inactive and unaware about the real politics at the grass-root level has costed very heavily to the reputation of the grand old party. The congress central leadership being indolent has costed heavily to the party not only in Meghalaya but in states like Arunachal Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka also. Congress being the main opposition party at the centre since 2014 has lost election after elections and currently is just limited to Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress allegedly attacked Narendra Modi’s government for destabilising the elected governments in different states but when it came to Meghalaya the TMC despite being principal ally of congress in showing the unity of the opposition against the BJP at the central level gave a huge jolt to the lethargic congress. The election strategist Prashant Kishor’s team which was camping since August in Shillong, according to various sources termed as the mastermind behind the defection of the Congress MLAs to the TMC. The issue of the Tribal vs non-tribal has always been the principal fault-line in politics of the northeastern states. Also, the Bengalis constitute the largest non-tribal community and Meghalaya being the border state touches the Bangladesh border as well. Thus, the influx of the Bengali population has continuously increased in the state and along with it a strong anti-Bengali political stand also emerged which opposed the increasing influence of the non-tribals in the state. The Congress,NCP, BJP and TMC all the major parties in the state started their election campaigns months before the 2023 assembly elections. The other small state parties and independent candidates also holds a very crucial position in the Meghalayan politics. The state is politically divided between the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills and the politics of the last 25 years gives ample proof that the candidate becomes more important rather than the party symbol in Meghalaya.
The Meghalayan political tussle is definitely going to be an interesting one and an unprecedented result will not be a big surprise this time. Meghalaya will certainly be keenly followed by pollsters in the days to come even as it prepares itself for the next assembly elections in 2023. The state also has two Lok sabha seats and certainly each seat has an electoral significance in the 2024 parliamentary elections. The party that rules the state will definitely have an edge in these two seats.