For the Congress, ruling Meghalaya for nine years, hopes of retaining power rest on the division of anti-Congress votes three ways, party leaders said ahead of Tuesday’s election. The BJP, which has put in its best effort ever to capture the hill state, did not go for a pre-poll alliance, as it did with regional parties in Assam and Manipur in the last two years, or as it has done in Nagaland.
“We are hoping that the anti-Congress votes will split into three parts among the BJP, the National People’s Party and the combine of UDP-HSPDP. In that event, the Congress stands a fair chance of retaining power. That is the feedback we are getting from our booth committees,” Vincent Pala, Lok Sabha member and working president of the Meghalaya PCC, told The Indian Express.
The Congress, which had won half the seats in the 2013 election for the 60-member Meghalaya assembly, is the only party that has put up candidates in all the constituencies. In contrast, the NPP — founded by former Lok Sabha Speaker the late Purno A Sangma — has candidates in only 52 constituencies, and the BJP in 47. The United Democratic Party (UDP) and Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), which have forged an alliance, are contesting in 35 and 13 constituencies respectively.
“It is true that this election has been the toughest for the Congress so far. But then, with our national president Rahul Gandhi making two extensive tours of the state, things look like moving fast in favour of the Congress,” Pala said. He claimed that an internal assessment carried out by the party had shown that it would win 22 seats for certain, and that there was a 50:50 chance of winning in 20 other seats.
Of the 24 seats in the Garo Hills region (under Tura Lok Sabha constituency), the Congress has a fair chance in 17, Pala claimed. In the 36 seats Khasi-Jaintia Hills region (Shillong Lok Sabha constituency, “we are looking at 25 with hope”, he said.
The BJP, for its part, has dismissed the possibility of the Congress retaining power. “Like elsewhere, Meghalaya is also yearning for change. I have travelled across the length and breadth of the state and am convinced the people are voting overwhelmingly for the BJP,” Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said. Sarma, who joined the BJP a little over two years ago, is credited with being the strategist behind the installation of BJP governments in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh during that short span.
Both the BJP and the Congress are banking on young voters — 89,000 of them first-time voters. While the BJP has promised to provide livelihood to every young citizen, including two lakh jobs in the tourism sector alone, the Congress has promised three lakh jobs that would touch every home.
The Congress is also banking on its campaign against the BJP’s alleged cultural agenda, with Rahul Gandhi saying during his campaign rallies that his party would defend the culture and way of thinking of the people of Meghalaya. “We will defend your culture, your way of thinking. Be proud of your heritage, of your culture, of your language, your religion,” Rahul had said in Shillong, at the same time accusing the BJP of trying to bribe the Church.
On Sunday, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of trying to strengthen the RSS base in Christian-dominated states like Meghalaya. “They want to implement one idea, of Hindutva. Look at the situation in Kashmir. Same thing will happen here in the Northeast in the coming days if same policy continues,” Azad said.
The BJP has focused on the Congress government’s alleged failure to create jobs, bring investments, provide adequate healthcare and education and tackle crimes against women. “Chief Minister Mukul Sangma being a doctor should have been able to set up a medical college. But, tragically, he failed to even set up primary health centres that function,” said Sarma, who chose development as the BJP’s theme for campaign.
The NPP, headed by late Sangma’s son Conrad, meanwhile, is optimistic that it will be his party that will win the elections and form the government. “We are strong enough to sweep the elections alone,” Sangma said, explaining why the NPP, despite being a NDA ally at the Centre, refrained from forming an alliance with the BJP.