The biggest challenge for Conrad Sangma, who took office as Meghalaya Chief Minister on Wednesday, is to ensure that his coalition government survives the five-year term. With 19 seats in the assembly, two less than the main opposition, the Congress, in a House of 60, his National People’s Party (NPP) is dependent on three other regional groups, and the BJP, to run the government.
The Congress will look for every opportunity to fish in troubled waters, a situation that vests the smaller parties with immense bargaining power. A major achievement of the previous chief minister, Mukul Sangma of the Congress, was that he could ensure political stability in the state for over eight years. Until Mukul Sangma’s advent, chief ministers in Meghalaya stayed in office for very short terms.
Conrad Sangma’s skills of persuasion and negotiation will be tested if the contradictions within the five-party coalition, the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA), come to the fore. The parties in the MDA fought the elections on their own ideologies and beliefs, as Conrad Sangma told this newspaper.
A shared antipathy towards the Congress, the pole of state politics, binds the alliance together. The BJP, which won just two of the 59 seats it contested despite a high-voltage campaign, also played a role in influencing the parties to keep aside their differences and unite. The MDA must now put together a common minimum programme. The chief minister has hinted that the alliance “will find out areas where there are contradictions” and “quarantine them” or “figure out how to resolve them”. This, however, is no easy task as is evident from the crisis within the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP), whose president initially objected to the inclusion of the BJP in the Conrad Sangma ministry.
The BJP, aware of the sensitivities in the Northeast, had played down its Hindutva agenda during the campaign. Having joined the government, the BJP’s activities elsewhere will come under closer scrutiny and may impact the life of the coalition.
A stark feature of the MDA ministry is the absence of women in the 12-member cabinet, especially since the NPP had projected Conrad’s sister, Agatha, a former Union minister, as its chief minister nominee. Post-election, Conrad, a Lok Sabha MP, was preferred over Agatha, elected to the assembly from a stronghold of their late father, Purno Sangma.
It appears that the matrilineal Meghalaya’s conservatism towards women in politics — only 32 of the 370 candidates in fray were women, of which four won, while women outnumber men in the electorate — has survived another election.