Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Meghalaya polls - Vital question: Can Congress' Pala do business with Mukul Sangma?

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Shillong/New Delhi | Thursday, 2023 5:15:09 AM IST
In poll-bound Meghalaya, the Trinamool Congress has already earned the negative sobriquet of being called a 'Bengali party'. This could possibly have a negative connotation in a state that witnesses frequent riots and anti-outsiders violence over parochial issues.

But an immensely popular former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is trying out his revival journey in Meghalaya as Mamata Banerjee's lieutenant in the north eastern state.

Mukul Sangma is a former Chief Minister and an ex-Congress stalwart. He lost power in 2018 even after the Congress had emerged as the single largest party.

But in 2021, he lost faith in Congress and decided to dump it after the Pradesh Congress presidentship was given by Rahul Gandhi to H Vincent Pala, the sitting Shillong MP.

Mukul Sangma's frustration was overwhelming and he quickly joined the Trinamool Congress.

"I don't believe Trinamool Congress is a Bengali party because... in such a situation should we say even our national anthem penned and sung by a Bengali himself is a Bengali anthem. So, my question is why is India singing that national anthem," Elgiva Rynjah, Trinamool candidate for North Shillong told this scribe.

But even Congress leaders admit Mukul Sangma is a "bigwig" and his desertion has definitely impacted the course of politics in Meghalaya. One immediate possibility is Meghalaya could be headed for a fractured mandate because with Mukul Sangma's exit, the Congress is weak and at the same time most analysts say on its own Trinamool Congress cannot muster a majority to form a government.

According to Congress spokesman and East Shillong candidate Manuel Badwar, former CM Mukul Sangma quit Congress for "personal reasons".

"My understanding is stability in Meghalaya politics now under the given circumstances is difficult to come by," Badwar told IANS, adding, "Mukul Sangma being in Congress, things could have been more stable definitely".

Answering questions, Badwar made it clear that - "There is no such thing as 'regret' with regard to Mukul Sangma's decision to quit Congress. There is no such thing as being sad also. It is just an evolution of politics in the state. It moves according to factors how it has to move."

Thus if the people of Meghalaya throw up a fractured mandate next month, the obvious question is whether Congress chief H. Vincent Pala and former CM Mukul Sangma can do business post-polls.

This is a pertinent query as Mukul Sangma's principal reason for quitting Congress was the high command decision to make Pala the state unit Congress president.

The Congress, which fought hard and managed to win 21 seats, must have struggled hard to put up as many winning candidates this time.

Just to touch double digit after the vote count may be a Mission Impossible.

In the Khasi belt that has 36 seats, the regional party UDP as a regional party had done well to pick up at least 7 seats in 2018.

This party has huge scope of growth in this year's polls; but infighting is maximum.

As of now, many analysts say it could be difficult to sum all possible scenarios making it total 60 seats.

On the other if the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are confined around 10 seats each -- something that looks most likely -- it appears the lady luck may shine on BJP candidates provided all cards are played well.

But more than the BJP which has a big time 'acceptance troubles' in the Christian majority state, the regional players such as UDP and even half a dozen independents may walk away victorious.

"Our rivals had tried to play up Christian card against BJP. But the fact of the matter is other than this religious polarisation attempt, our detractors have no solid ground to oppose BJP. So we are getting a huge advantage as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Development Mission will be the Chief tool to garner votes," says K. Kharkrang, a former IPS officer and a BJP ticket aspirant from North Shillong.

So analysts say under the given situation the BJP may touch double digits if the campaign juggernaut backed by some good shows by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other vote catchers are tried with proper planning.

They say as of now there is a huge vacant slot of around 15 seats; and there would be also a huge dependency on Independents and smaller parties such as HSPDP and newly floated VPP.

The refrain is no one knows how this 15 vacant seats would turn up.

Moreover, NPP's over confidence punctuated with huge arrogance amid anti incumbency is making analysts argue that there are 70 per cent chances of a hung assembly.

Thus, it is already being discussed that Congress and Trinamool Congress will have to do business. Those who understand the dynamics of Meghalaya politics say that understanding cannot be imposed from New Delhi (Congress head quarters) or Kolkata (Trinamool headquarters).

That means essentially, Pala and Mukul Sangma have to sit together.

Things will be tough for both, but more challenging vis-a-vis ego hassles for Mukul Sangma.

From the other side, the BJP is sensing such a scenario and the party has reportedly sent in feelers to Mukul Sangma as well.

Besides central leaders such as M Chuba Ao (national vice president and Meghalaya in-charge) and Rituraj Sinha (co-in charge north east), insiders suggest Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma will also play his part at the last moment.

"Himanta is already in the game and Assam BJP full timers have reached out to various key assembly segments trying to convince the Christian voters that the Lotus party has nothing against Christians in general," says an insider.

For his part, BJP national vice president M Chuba Ao recently wrote an article wherein he has tried to argue that, "Prime Minister's slogan 'Sabka Saath and Sabka Vikas' is essentially based on the doctrine that all development and peace and progress in a multi-religious and multilingual India is based on the doctrine of equality of the human race.

And so why should Christians presume that the BJP will be against them? It is a fatuous argument, therefore, that Christianity as a religion and the BJP as a political entity are in a state of confrontation".

Congress leader Badwar is cautious when it comes to matters concerning post-politics and whether his party will be willing to strike a working relationship with Trinamool Congress in Meghalaya.

"There is no such thing as this or anti that....We are not anti any other party. We have an ideology that probably does not fit together," he said in reference to Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee, also a former Congress leader.

He even makes light of the 'DNA' factor in the Trinamool Congress though it is a splinter group out of Congress only.

"Even Trinamool Congress has its own ideology," he says adding: "If I am to draw a diagram, there may be an intersection point between Congress and Trinamool Congress. But there is no such intersection point between the Congress and the BJP."

In other words such a possibility is not ruled out entirely. Trinamool leaders Ms Elgiva says, "All regional parties including NPP of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and UDP and the BJP are responsible for the mess in the state."

Of course, she does not have much to speak against Congress as she has been a former Congress leader herself when Mukul Sangma was in Congress.

Badwar has a pragmatic way of explaining things. "Politics does not happen only in Jo Dikhta hae (what you can see)... Politics also works in the kitchen, it also works when people sit at home and discuss about their families and the future".

Has he really answered the puzzle? Let the real answer remain in the womb of time.

(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, 'The Talking Guns: North East India' and 'Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth'. Views are personal)

--IANS nirendra/pgh

( 1337 Words)

2023-01-11-23:10:03 (IANS)

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