The current diffusive politics can adversely affect TMC hopes but fading BJP and Modi’s popularity and induction of a few prominent faces can make Mukul Sangma’s statement true by the 2023 election, if not in 30-45 days.
It was a development rumoured to be in the fag end of the sea for the last couple of months. Finally, after months of talks and deliberation, former CM of Meghalaya and 11 MLAs had formally joined Trinamool Congress, making it a primary opposition party in a 60-member state Assembly house.
“Our decision will set the trend in Meghalaya, the Northeast and the entire country. From her (Mamata Banerjee’s) conviction and words, it is clear that she is the sole gravitating force,” Mukul Sangma said in a press conference in Kolkata.
Meghalaya will go to the polls in 2023, the political rivalry between two Sangma families (both the former and current CM share the surname) will become fierce. Apart from that, a further dent to the opposition unity might prove a barrier to the existing anti-Bengali sentiment in the state.
The move: Culpable reason and its effect
The sudden swapping of allegiances from Congress to TMC has drawn talks about a similar incident in Arunachal Pradesh in 2016. Congress lost its position as the main opposition party after 43 of 44 MLAs joined the People’s Party of Arunachal and later allied with BJP.
After five years, Congress in Meghalaya is similarly lowered to five in the 60-member state Assembly in just one leap. As per the media reports in the past few months, Sangma was unhappy with the Lok Sabha member Vincent H Pala’s appointment as the Congress President in September. He was reportedly not consulted over the move, which was quite proven by his absence in the Pala’s felicitation ceremony. It also fuelled his rift with the party and led to the speculation of joining TMC or forming his party.
He met the top Congress brass in October, a move intended to placate him. But efforts could not yield the result. Reportedly, Sangma also doubted Congress’s ability to fund the campaign. Something believed to be not an issue for TMC.
The exits of Sangma and Pyngrope, a Khasi leader from Shillong, were sparked by the elevation of a Jaintia Hills leader, Vincent Pala to the state party president’s position in August.
In a press conference on Thursday, Sangma said, “We have raised the issue of an effective Opposition with the leadership in Delhi. We have made many trips to Delhi, but nothing happened… While looking for options for an opposition space, I ended up meeting my good friend Prashant Kishor, who we know, who can make a difference… We shared the same objective – the interest of the people supersede everything.”
Mukul Sangma’s wife and daughter, Dikkanchi Shira and Miani Shira, including his brother Zenith Sangma, are all MLAs. They and four other MLAs from Garo Hills have joined TMC with him, effectively eroding Congress presence in the Garo Hills. The move has also made the forthcoming Assembly election extremely fiery between the Garo chieftains, Mukul and his rival Conrad Sangma, the current chief minister of the state.
The waning popularity of Modi
The popularity of the BJP and their supreme leader Modi has waned in comparison to their previous glorious years. The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which is deeply unpopular in North-east India and the followed-up mess that led to the entire NRC exercise has created many deep-rooted opposition pockets across the states.
The recent border conflict between Meghalaya and Assam, which only deepened after Sangma became the CM of Assam is touted as persuasive bullying by the BJP on smaller parties and communities.
The growing Hindu nationalism, and its obsession, particularly over eating beef, have resulted in lower acceptance over tribal Christians. To date, the BJP north-eastern leaders have maintained a safe distance from the national party stance on the issue. The slow inert of women in BJP-ruled states like UP would also cause a repeal effect in the tribal matriarchal society.
TMC brand has its hurdles
Meanwhile, Meghalaya TMC president Charles Pyngrope thanked Banerjee and swanked on the long-standing ties between West Bengal and Meghalaya, especially Shillong.
But to execute the statement, Sangma needs to tread over certain predominant hurdles. A chunk of Meghalaya politics is an outcome of a long inflicted outsider character to the North East states. The principal concoction of any hilly North East state politics is tribal versus non-tribal battle. And it will always remain the controlling force of state politics.
Meghalaya is flanked by Bangladesh and Assam on north and south, respectively. And consequently, Bengalis are the largest non-tribal minority in Assam and the majority of the Bangladeshi population. Therefore, it has demonstrated anti-Bengali politics for decades.
Meghalaya is divided into Garo, Khasi and Jaintia Hills – both politically and geographically. The capital city of Shillong, as mentioned by Pyngrope, has a unique character and eight Legislative seats. It is predominantly Khasi but is a cosmopolitan city with a mix of Bengali, Punjabi and Bihari populations.
The rest of the state is severely divided among the tribes, thus making it vulnerable to the small tribal parties. In the end, the power typically gets divided between the parties and independent candidates. The nature of diffusive political power in Meghalaya requires individual capabilities of the candidates than party symbols. BJP minister Sanbor Shullai had arguably won despite his party than the other way round.
Mukul Sangma can win his seat quite seamlessly. He can also ensure the victory of his immediate family members in the Garo Hills strongholds. Similarly, Charles Pyngrope, a powerful Khasi leader from Shillong, can win on any symbol. For the rest of the candidates, their self-popularity will be on test in their respective constituencies. The Khasi and Jaintia Hills share 28 seats, while the Garo Hills has 24 Legislative seats.
TMC is trying to benefit from the government facing a semi-strong anti-incumbency issue. However, the opposition will be even more fractured with new parties entering the state. The recent blow inflicted by the TMC has eroded Congress presence in the Garo Hills. The Khasi Hills will have an array of parties deemed to support the existing government. This puts the NPP and Conrad Sangma in an advantageous position. However, if NPP loses five to six seats, the smaller parties will become the kingmaker.