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

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

A day after Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee addressed a huge pre-poll rally at Mendipathar in Meghalaya’s North Garo Hills district on Wednesday, the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) termed her poll promises “mere publicity materials.”

The north-eastern state goes to polls on February 27, the Election Commission announced on Wednesday. After a single-phase polling, the votes will be counted on March 2.

Taking her “Khela hobe” (roughly translates to “Ready for the game”) slogan to Meghalaya in the form of “Kalani onggen” (Garo version), Banerjee on Wednesday made a slew of promises to the state if her party comes to power in the February 27 polls. On Thursday, the NPP hit back, terming the TMC’s flagship WE Card as “baaki” (credit) card.

“Good only on paper”

“The promises made by AITC (All-India Trinamool Congress) chief Mamata Banerjee during her election meeting in North Garo Hills are mere election promises, which sound good on paper and in publicity materials,” stated the Meghalaya NPP.

“They have termed their baaki (credit) card — ‘We Card’ and ‘MYE’ (youth empowerment scheme) — as ‘revolutionary’ without realising that such intervention, if could be done, will take any state on a debt trap, which has happened in the case of West Bengal,” the party statement added, asking citizens “not to fall victim to such hollow promises being made by AITC.”

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The Meghalaya Financial Inclusion for Women’s Empowerment Scheme (MFI WE) is popularly known as WE Card. Banerjee launched it in the north-eastern state on December 13, 2022. Within two weeks, the Meghalaya TMC claimed it had crossed over one lakh registrations. Both the WE Card and the MYE youth empowerment scheme promise Rs 1,000 a month to beneficiaries.

“The WE Card is the rebranded name of the Lakshmir Bhandar Scheme of the West Bengal government. The West Bengal government has a per-capita debt of around Rs 59,000 in 2022-23, and this scheme is one of the reasons for this debt,” the NPP statement added.

The party argued that the West Bengal government pays something between Rs 80,000 and Rs 90,000 crore as debt repayment and interest every year. So basically, every West Bengal citizen pays Rs 8,000 as debt every year.

TMC ready for the game

Wednesday’s poll rally was Banerjee’s first in Garo Hills, where the party is said to be growing in popularity. According to the party, the crowd swelled to 50,000, apparently the biggest ever at any poll rally in Meghalaya. Trinamool leaders Abhishek Banerjee and Derek O’Brien accompanied Banerjee.

As expected, the West Bengal Chief Minister projected her party as an alternative to the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government, which, she termed as the “BJP’s proxy, corrupt government.” The alliance, however, won’t be contesting the upcoming elections, as the NPP has decided to go solo. It was the largest partner in the alliance, which also included the BJP, the United Democratic Party (UDP), and others.

She promised to empower the people of Meghalaya, uphold their culture, celebrate the “sacred land,” and remove the proxy BJP government, which has not done anything for the people. “The BJP is a double-faced party which promises something at the time of elections and does something else after polls,” she alleged.

“What has this MDA government done in the past five years? We challenge them to show their report card on what they did in the past five years. Why is it that after so many years, electricity has not reached most parts of Meghalaya? Why is the younger generation not getting any employment opportunities?” she thundered in her trademark style.

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The BJP has two MLAs (including a minister) in the MDA government led by NPP headed by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma.

The Trinamool was the first party in Meghalaya to declare candidates for 52 of the 60 assembly seats. In November 2021, 12 MLAs, led by former CM Mukul Sangma (2010-2018), who had contested the 2018 polls with a Congress ticket, joined TMC, making the party the main opposition in Meghalaya overnight. However, five of these 12 MLAs have since quit TMC to join other parties.

“Expenditure-sensitive” seats

On Thursday, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) FR Kharkongor said that at least 34 assembly constituencies in Meghalaya have been identified as “expenditure sensitive,” and strict monitoring will be observed in those segments.

“We have received reports that in at least 34 assembly constituencies across the state, the use of money is very high, and security personnel would be deployed and the model code of conduct would be enforced strictly,” Kharkongor told PTI.

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A total of 3,482 polling stations will be set up in Meghalaya for the upcoming polls. Kharkongor said 747 polling booths are “vulnerable” and 399 polling booths have been identified as “critical” for various reasons.

He added that 120 companies of Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) would be deployed in the upcoming polls. Forty companies of CAPF, including 10 companies of existing CAPF, are already in the state.

(With agency inputs)

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