Meghalaya Pradesh Congress headquarters at Thana Road in Shillong is brimming with enthusiasm over the past couple of days.
The gusto is not entirely because Congress leader Rahul Gandhi will be finally seen campaigning in the poll-bound state after giving it a miss in Tripura. He is unlikely to campaign in Nagaland either. Tripura, where elections were held on February 16, the Congress contested only 13 seats in alliance with the Left Front. The party last time failed to win a single seat in the state and this time too it is not expecting any remarkable turnaround.
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The Congress’ performance was equally dismal in Nagaland in 2018, as the party drew a blank. As in Tripura, the party’s prospects in Nagaland too aren’t very bright for the February 27 elections. Last time Nagaland Congress president K Therie publicly blamed the non-cooperation of the party high command for its pathetic show.
Rahul not to campaign in Nagaland
This time too there are murmurs of discontent within the party over not so enthusiastic participation of central leaderships in the campaigning. “We wanted members of the Gandhi family to campaign in the state. Besides, we were looking for young leaders such as Sachin Pilot, whose father Rajesh Pilot was very popular in the state, to come and support us,” said a Nagaland Congress secretary.
“We have no information about Rahul Gandhi or any other member of the Gandhi family coming to Nagaland for electioneering. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge addressed a rally today (Tuesday) while Shashi Tharoor will pay a visit tomorrow (Wednesday),” said former Nagaland chief minister and senior Congress leader KL Chishi.
Rally in Meghalaya after rethink
Initially, Congress had no plan to send Rahul Gandhi to campaign in Meghalaya either. “There will be no big rally and no star campaigner. We will go for door-to-door campaign for personal connect. Here (in Meghalaya) people prefer to get to know more about candidates than their party affiliations,” Meghalaya Congress president Vincent H Pala had announced a few weeks ago.
There has been a rethink on that decision. The party is now planning a mega rally to be addressed by Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday. Congress sources said the volte-face in the party stand came early last week.
After the day’s campaign, Pala and AICC in-charge of Meghalaya Manish Chatrath were closeted in a meeting with other senior party state leaders at the Congress Bhavan in Shillong to assess the reports from the “ground zero”.
The underlying messages in the evaluation reports were by and large the same. They claimed that the overall position of the party is not as bad as it was expected despite facing elections for the first time in the state without any sitting legislator in the list of its nominees.
Things looking up for Congress
In Garo Hills that accounts for 24 seats, the party seems to be recovering from the desertion of Mukul Sangma, the former chief minister and a tall Garo leader, according to a Meghalaya Congress leader privy to the internal assessments.
Till recently it appeared that the Trinamool Congress would be the main challenger to the National People’s Party (NPP) of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and another Garo stalwart in the region, said the Congress leader.
Even the NPP’s ally-turned-rival BJP is putting all its might in the Garo Hills by roping in its two top leaders Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to campaign there. Modi will address a rally in Tura, the district headquarters of Garo Hills, on February 24 before proceeding to Shillong for a road show. On the same day he will be visiting Nagaland too.
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Things are also looking up for the Congress in Khasi-Jaintia Hills that elects 36 of the state’s 60 legislators, the Congress leaders added, underlining the reason for the new-found zeal in the Congress.
Hoping to influence govt formation
After the last week’s marathon discussions to dissect the feedback at the Congress’ state headquarters, a message was sent to the high command that with a little more push from them, the party could well be in the position to influence the formation of the next government in the state.
Meanwhile, the party got another fillip when TMC general secretary Abhishek Banerjee on Saturday (February 18) announced that his party was open for a post-poll alliance with the Congress. “The TMC leader’s assertion reaffirms that the Congress is very much in the race in Meghalaya,” said Dipankar Roy, editor-in-chief of The Meghalayan.