Meghalaya polls: MDA split, defection-hit Oppn may make it a cliff-hanger

Meghalaya polls: MDA split, defection-hit Oppn may make it a cliff-hanger

With the allies in the scam-riddled Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government breaking apart, and the opposition grappling with defections, the 2023 Meghalaya elections promise to be quite a nail-biter.

The 60-seat Meghalaya assembly goes to polls on February 27, with the MDA government headed by Conrad Sangma of the National People’s Party (NPP) facing a new opposition – the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which overnight found itself as the main opposition in November 2021 when former CM Mukul Sangma left the Congress and joined Mamata Banerjee’s party with 11 party MLAs.

Corruption charges

The ruling MDA comprised the NPP, the United Democratic Party (UDP), and the BJP, among others. But disagreement on several issues has led the NPP to break its alliance with the BJP and decide to go it alone in the coming elections. The Uniform Civil Code and the Citizenship Amendment Act have been a bone of contention between the two former allies, with the BJP for them and NPP not in favour.

One of the major issues is corruption. So much so that alliance partner BJP in September threatened to withdraw its support over the many scam allegations plaguing the government. The state BJP has slammed the NPP for denying people the benefits of development projects due to corruption, incompetence, and lack of intent.

Also read: Why BJP is upset with Meghalaya Assembly poll date

The opposition parties too have been constantly attacking the alliance government over this issue. The TMC on Saturday (January 21) slammed the MDA coalition for hiding the inquiry reports on the multi-crore scams involving the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited (MeECL) and the Food Corporation of India (FCI), Shillong.

Corruption is such a major issue that even the newly formed Voice of the People Party (VPP), led by Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, former MLA and former president of the Hill State People Democratic Party (HSPDP), has it as its main poll plank.

Non-implementation of schemes

There also seems to be a serious gap between the promises and implementation of schemes and projects in Meghalaya. The TMC recently questioned the reason for the non-disbursement of the amount promised under the PM Kisan scheme to farmers.

TMC vice-president in the state, George B Lyngdoh, alleged recently that 1.95 lakh farmers registered under the PM Kisan scheme since 2018-2019 are yet to receive the promised money. “As promised, a sum of Rs 6,000 was about to be disbursed to them each year, but that amount is now missing. But the government is silent on the issue,” he was quoted by Shillong Times. What happened to all that money, he asked.

Also read: Meghalaya polls: Day after Mamata rally, NPP terms her schemes ‘debt traps’

Another issue in the news is that of the 22.5 MW Ganol Hydro Electric Project in Garo Hills. The foundation stone for the project was laid in 2008 and it was supposed to be inaugurated in 2018. But the project is yet to be completed. One of the three units was inaugurated earlier this month, while two others are still under construction.

BJP’s mixed report card

Ally BJP, on the other hand, has a mixed report card regarding the implementation of central schemes. On January 7, the state BJP made several claims about the beneficiaries of central government schemes in the state. An analysis by FactChecker showed that two of the claims were correct, one was partially correct, one incorrect, and another unclear.

While the claims about 21.4 lakh households receiving free food grains during the COVID-19 pandemic under the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana and 5.2 lakh households receiving cashless treatment for PM Jan Arogya Yojana were correct, that of 68,136 houses being built under the PM Awas Yojana was much exaggerated. On the other hand, more households were given free gas connections under the Ujjwala Yojana than the 1.5 lakh claimed.

Image issues

The BJP also has an image issue. The Sangh Parivar’s support to the demand to delist converted tribals from the Scheduled Tribe list and the attacks on churches and Christians in Chhattisgarh and Karnataka have not gone down too well with the Christian-majority Meghalaya, where almost 75 per cent of the population is Christian.

Also read: Mamata to hold rally in Tripura; Abhishek to release Meghalaya manifesto

The Khasi Jaintia Christian Leaders Forum (KJCLF) has said in a statement that the “deafening silence of the Prime Minister on atrocities against Christians over a long period of time in different parts of the country is significantly notable.” This anti-minority tag has put the BJP on the back foot and was one of the main reasons that the NPP decided to desert it.

Rift in MDA

The rift in MDA can give the opposition a bit of an edge. NPP, like many other parties in the North-East, has been vocal in its demand for the repeal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), though the areas covered under it have been reduced.

Also, the arrest of BJP state vice-president Bernard N Marak last year — first for allegedly running a brothel and storing explosives at his Tura farmhouse, and later for his alleged involvement in manipulating essential commodity prices — was a major flashpoint between the NPP and BJP.

Also read: Meghalaya celebrates 51st Statehood Day

Thanks to the rampant corruption charges and the anti-incumbency factor, the Opposition has a lot going in its favour. However, observers feel that Mukul Sangma would have had a better chance had he remained with the Congress. His joining the TMC, which is new in Meghalaya and has a ‘Bengali party’ image, may go against him. Already, some of his former loyalists have defected to other parties.

With no clear indication as to whom the people will go for this time, Meghalaya elections are likely to keep the parties on tenterhooks till the polling day.

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