As Meghalaya braces for polls, Christian leaders ask people to vote ‘judiciously’

As Meghalaya braces for polls, Christian leaders ask people to vote ‘judiciously’

Even as BJP heavyweights — including the party’s chief strategist and Union Home Minister Amit Shah — continue to pour into Meghalaya ahead of the February 27 assembly polls, Christian leaders from the North East have urged voters to “judiciously exercise (their) electoral privilege.”

Christian leaders’ warning

“One should not succumb to false promises and short-term allurements but remain alert to threats to the freedom guaranteed by our Constitution and safeguards ensured therein to our people,” said Rev Dr EH Kharkongor, recording secretary.

Reminding the audience about the murder of Graham Staines in Odisha, atrocities against Christians in Kandhamal in 2008, and similar incidents, Rev Kharkongor said, “Over the past few years, atrocities against Christians and Churches have increased in numbers and intensity with many more cases going unreported.”

Also read: Meghalaya denied development due to ‘twin evils’: Union minister Sonowal

He also drew attention to the “hundreds of acres of tribal land and resources” that are “being handed over to persons and groups alien to the region.”

“A fear is being expressed about the sinister threat of removing the ST (Scheduled Tribe) status from tribal Christians and others, which will effectively take away the constitutional rights and status of the indigenous citizens of the land,” Rev Kharkongor said.

“While government authorities have denied any intention to interfere in the citizens’ choice of their religion, faith and practice, yet churches, institutions and Christian centres are being harassed with undue enquiries and uncalled-for requirements and warnings,” he added.

Mawrie’s beef statement

Soon after that, Meghalaya BJP chief Ernest Mawrie on Monday (February 20) came up with a statement that is a clear attempt to distance the state unit from the Hindutva ideology of the party’s central unit. “I eat beef and I am in BJP, there is absolutely no problem with this,” he was quoted by news agency IANS as saying.

Also read: Meghalaya polls: Allies or foes? Bizarre political games unfold in state

“It has been nine years since the BJP came to power at the Centre, and we have not seen any church under attack. There is no restriction being put on consuming beef too,” he was quoted as saying.

The BJP is leaving no stone unturned in Meghalaya, where it has been battling against the party’s hardline Hindutva and anti-minority images, as well as a rift with its ally National People’s Party (NPP), leader of the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA). While Amit Shah and the party’s national president JP Nadda have already paid a visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit the poll-bound state on February 24.

BJP in a tight spot

After denials by NPP and weeks of conjecture, it is clear now that there is no pre-poll alliance in the state and allies are fighting against each other. Amit Shah, during his poll campaign in the state last week, said it was the BJP that had broken its alliance with the NPP. He said Meghalaya was “one of the most corrupt states in the country” and accused the outgoing government — of which his party is an ally — of being involved in corruption.

“The BJP election manifesto has already stated that it will investigate all corruption in Meghalaya through a retired Supreme Court judge, and then all the accused will go to jail,” he claimed.

In the latest tiff between the allies, the BJP has slammed the NPP-led government for denying it permission to hold PM Modi’s mega rally at Tura stadium. “The government denied permission for the rally saying that the PA Sangma stadium is not yet ready,” the Meghalaya BJP said.

BJP national general secretary and North East co-convener Rituraj Sinha has questioned how CM Conrad Sangma could inaugurate the stadium last December and announce that it was ready.

Fractured mandate looks inevitable

However, like the last Meghalaya assembly election in 2018, a fractured mandate seems inevitable. After the last polls, five parties — including the NPP, the BJP, the United Democratic Party (UDP), the People’s Democratic Party (PDF), and the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) — and one independent candidate had joined the MDA.

This time, as many as 12 political parties are in the fray. These include BJP, Congress, NPP, Trinamool Congress (TMC), UDP, HSPDP, PDF, Gana Suraksha Party, Garo National Council, Janata Dal (United), Republican Party of India, Republican Party of India (Athawale), and Voice of the People Party (VPP).

Also read: BJP committed to development of Meghalaya, Nagaland: PM Modi

The total number of candidates is 375, including 36 women. The BJP and the Congress have fielded 60 candidates each, while the main opposition TMC has nominated 56 candidates. NPP has fielded 57, while 44 independent candidates are also contesting the high-voltage polls. Of the candidates, 233 are from national parties, 69 from state parties, and 29 from registered unrecognized parties.

Know your candidates

A report by the Meghalaya Assembly Elections and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) says that 50% of the candidates contesting the Meghalaya assembly polls are crorepatis, up from the 41% in 2018. While 186 of the 375 candidates are crorepatis this time, 152 of 370 were crorepatis then.

Also read: Meghalaya polls: Alcohol, drugs, cash, freebies worth Rs 51 Cr seized

Vincent H Pala of the Congress, contesting from Sutnga-Saipung, tops the crorepati list with assets worth a whopping Rs 93 crore. Next on the list is UDP candidate Metbah Lyngdoh, contesting from Mairang. He owns assets worth Rs 25+ crore.

As many as 21 candidates have criminal cases against them, the ADR has revealed.

(With agency inputs)

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