Meghalaya Saturday threw up a hung Assembly with the ruling Congress bagging 21 seats, down from 29 in 2013, and falling 10 short of a simple majority. Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party took giant strides, winning 19 seats. Both parties were making hectic efforts to rope in smaller parties and Independents to form the government.
The Congress had focused all energy on Meghalaya in this round of Assembly elections, to the extent it upset its leaders in Tripura and Nagaland. The Nagaland Congress chief, Kewe Khape Therie, had accused the party of abandoning the state. While the Congress was wiped out in those two states, its efforts in Meghalaya turned out to be not enough.
While both the Congress and NPP expressed confidence about being able to form the government, the BJP, even though it won only two of the 47 seats it contested in the Christian-dominated state, sent its key Northeast strategist Himanta Biswa Sarma to Shillong, ostensibly to try to keep the Congress out of power.
The Congress, on its part, rushed senior leaders Ahmed Patel, Kamal Nath, Mukul Wasnik, and AICC general secretary in charge of the Northeast C P Joshi, to Shillong. Patel said there would no repeat of Manipur and Goa where, despite emerging as the single largest party, the Congress had failed to form governments.
“It is clear that we will form the government. The will of the people of Meghalaya will be reflected in our Congress government… We are in touch with everybody. Everybody is in touch with us,” Kamal Nath said.
While the NPP and BJP fought separately, the NPP is an ally of the BJP at the Centre and in Manipur. The United Democratic Party, which won six seats, too, is part of the BJP-helmed North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). The UDP contested in alliance with the Hill State People’s Democratic Party, which won two seats. If the BJP can bring together these three parties, maybe under the leadership of the NPP, their combined tally would go up to 29.
The other important player is the People’s Democratic Front which has won four seats. The PDF was floated only last year by former Congress MLA Pynshngain N Syiem. Though Syiem himself lost narrowly at the Mawsynram seat, given that he was heavily critical of Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, chances of the PDF backing a Congress government headed by Sangma appeared remote.
Congress sources said they were aware that some parties could be averse to supporting a government led by Mukul Sangma. In such an eventuality, the party’s plan B could be to choose someone who might be acceptable to smaller parties and Independents. Negotiations with the UDP, HSPDP, and some Independents were continuing late into the night. Ahmed Patel and other central leaders would meet Congress MLAs on Sunday to gauge their opinion, it was learnt.
Polling for 59 Assembly seats, out of a total 60, was held on February 27. The death of a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate in an IED blast led to the election for one seat being countermanded.
Chief Minister Sangma, who won from both Ampati and Songsok, conceded he had been expecting a number closer to the halfway mark for his party. His wife Dikkanchi D Shira won from Mahendraganj seat, but Assembly Speaker Abu Taher Mondal lost, as did Home Minister H Donkupar R Lyngdoh and Urban Affairs Minister Ronnie V Lyngdoh.
Conrad Sangma’s brother and NPP spokesperson James K Sangma retained his Dadenggre seat. NCP state president Saleng A Sangma won from Gambegre, while Adelbert Nongrum of the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) won from North Shillong.
The Congress voteshare fell to 28.5 per cent from 34.78 per cent in 2013. The NPP, which had won only two seats and 8.81 per cent of the vote in 2013, received 20.6 per cent votes.