In the wake of widespread protests in the Northeast over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the ruling coalition in Meghalaya will take heart from its win in two tribal council polls held recently. The Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government includes the BJP.
However, in a sign of the impact of the Bill, which now stands lapsed, the Congress emerged as the single largest party in one of the two councils.
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The party won 10 of the 29 seats in the Khasi Hills Autonomous District Council, while the National People’s Party (NPP) — which leads the MDA — won seven and ally United Democratic Party (UDP) six. MDA constituent Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) got two seats and People’s Democratic Front (PDF) secured one seat. The remaining three seats went to Independents.
In 2014 too, the Congress had won 10 seats in the council but lost six to defection.
In the other tribal body — Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council — the NPP won 12 seats and the UDP 10 while the Congress managed only four. This was a marked loss considering that the grand old party had won 14 seats in 2014. The remaining three seats went to Independents.
John Kharshiing, the general secretary of the state Congress, told The Indian Express, “The results are definitely a favourable indicator for the Congress. It shows how well our candidates performed and that the CAB (Citizenship Amendment Bill) issue was quite a factor. People were confused over the position taken by other parties over the Bill and disappointed by them.”
However, he conceded, “Parliamentary elections are a different ballgame altogether. Several factors will come into play there.”
What helped the MDA was the strong position taken by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma against the Bill, emerging as the most outspoken leader of the region, despite his party NPP’s alliance with the BJP. In January, Sangma had convened a meeting of 11 opposition parties, hosted by the Assam’s Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Guwahati, and had also travelled to Delhi multiple times to convey the anger on the ground against the Modi government’s planned legislation.
NPP Meghalaya president Dr W R Kharlukhi said, “The basic takeaway from the results is that people have realised that regional parties will stand by them and take care of them. The CAB has not affected us. CM Sangma has been at the forefront of opposing it. Even BJP MLAs in Meghalaya have opposed the Bill.”
However, UDP leaders are not as optimistic. Bindo Lanong, senior working president of the UDP, said, “The CAB issue definitely hit us. We could have fared better. The Congress is banking on that propaganda and making an issue of our tie-up with the BJP.”
Come general elections, the MDA constituents hope that the anger would have subsided, helping its candidates win both the Lok Sabha seats in Meghalaya. In 2014, the Congress’s Vincent Pala had won from Shillong while the NPP’s Purno Sangma had won Tura. In 2016, the senior Sangma had died, paving the way for his son and now Meghalaya CM Conrad to become MP. The Tura seat remains vacant since Conrad became the CM.
The UDP’s Lanong said, “In the coming general elections, we will field our candidate in Shillong and our friends will support him, while in Tura, we will all support the NPP candidate. People know that we are against the Bill. Therefore we hope our prospects are not hit in the LS polls.”