MARKING a slip again between the cup and the lip for the Congress, the BJP on Saturday managed to deny the party, which emerged as the single largest party in Meghalaya, a shot at power.
Led by Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP), the BJP, with two MLAs, brought together regional parties UDP, HSPDP and the PDF and met the governor to stake claim to form the next government, claiming the support of 34 MLAs in the 60-member House. NPP chief and Lok Sabha MP Conrad Sangma will be the chief minister of the alliance.
All its constituents, including the BJP, would be a part of the new government. The swearing-in is scheduled for 10.30 am on March 6.
It was a Super Sunday in Shillong as parleys that began on Saturday night, hours after the counting got over, continued through the day. The Congress’s nemesis again turned out to be Himanta Biswa Sarma, who held negotiations with Conrad and UDP chief Donkupar Roy to clinch the deal. By Sunday evening, MLAs and leaders of the NPP, BJP, UDP, PDF, HSPDP and an Independent MLA had jointly met Governor Ganga Prasad and staked claim.
While the NPP has 19 MLAs, the UDP (United Democratic Party) has six, the HSPDP (Hill State People’s Democratic Party) two, the BJP two and the PDF (People’s Democratic Front) four. The Independent who is supporting them is Samuel M Sangma.
The Congress got left behind despite its 21 MLAs. The party had rushed its top leaders Ahmed Patel, C P Joshi, Mukul Wasnik and Kamal Nath to Shillong, but could not swing its way the regional parties, which held the key to government formation.
While the Congress had met the governor on Saturday midnight and staked claim, it did not have the numbers then. While submitting his resignation too, outgoing CM Mukul Sangma had indicated that he would return to stake claim. But that did not happen.
“We have submitted a letter to the governor with the support of 34 MLAs, staking claim to form the government. The letter of support that has been received from the the UDP, PDF, BJP and HSPDP mentions that they would be supporting a government led by Conrad Sangma. The NPP has also given the same letter,” Conrad said, after the meeting the governor.
He did not reveal from which seat he would contest to get elected as an MLA.
While Meghalaya has an Assembly of 60, the effective strength is 58, as election was not held on one seat due to the death of a candidate while Mukul Sangma, who won from two seats, will have to vacate one.
Sarma, who arrived in Shillong from Agartala Saturday night, held meetings with Conrad, UDP chief Roy and HSPDP leaders, preparing the ground for the post-poll coalition. He, BJP leader Nalin Kohli and Union minister Alphonse Kannanthanam worked out the nitty-gritty during back-to-back meetings Sunday, clinching the deal by afternoon.
Roy and Sarma initially claimed the alliance would have the support of 29 MLAs. But by the time they met the governor two hours later, the PDF too had come on board.
Roy said the UDP’s only condition was that “Conrad should be the CM”, and that they were ready to return to the discussion table on the issue. He said they wanted Conrad as the party feels he is the most “capable” and “acceptable” face. The parliamentary party of the UDP, he said, was clear that “we should go in for a non-Congress government or NPP-led government with Conrad Sangma as the chief minister”.
Asked whether the BJP had offered them Rajya Sabha tickets or allegedly money inducements, Roy said, “Inducements don’t work for me. I am concerned about the stability of the government.”
The HSPDP was said to be initially reluctant to be part of a coalition with the BJP in it. Roy said he discussed the matter with them and convinced them about the need for a non-Congress government.
The AICC general secretary in-charge of Meghalaya, C P Joshi, called the developments in Meghalaya “unfortunate”. “A democratic set-up works on some principles and precedents. The precedent is that the governor will invite the single-largest party. He should have invited us. And without electing any leader, people were paraded before the governor. That is not the system. Unprecedented things are happening.”
Joshi added that the Congress was not hungry for power. Claiming that the party had got a mandate against communal forces, he said, “The BJP could not get more than two seats. It offered a regional party help to form the government. The mandate of the people is for a secular government. As the single-largest party, we expected the governor to invite us. If they are determined to subvert democracy, who can help?”
Conrad said he and his allies would now work out details of the new Cabinet, including the number of ministers for each party. Sources said the UDP could be given a deputy chief minister post.
Incidentally, Conrad’s way to becoming CM was cleared exactly two years after the death of his father Purno Sangma, who passed away on March 4, 2016.