In 2018, when Meghalaya went to the polls and results were declared, the Indian National Congress emerged as the single largest party in the state assembly. Second up was the National Peoples Party. From 21 MLAs in 2018, today, Congress has been left with merely five seats in the Meghalaya assembly. The latest blow to the Grand Old Party’s fortunes in Meghalaya came on Wednesday night, as the Trinamool Congress effectuated what can be called a midnight coup against the Congress, and stole 12 MLAs from right under Sonia Gandhi and her son’s nose. Now, the Trinamool Congress has emerged as the principal opposition party in Meghalaya.
Congress Decimated in Meghalaya, 17 months before Assembly Elections
Meghalaya has been a bastion of the Congress party for years. Not very long ago, the state was considered impenetrable by parties not belonging to the state. The TMC, however, seems to have taken a leap of faith and gone for the Congress’ jugular in this hill state. The Indian anti-defection law allows for two-thirds of legislators from one party in the assembly to join another, without disqualification. This means that these 12 MLAs will now be members of the Meghalaya assembly on a TMC symbol.
Addressing the media on Thursday afternoon in Shillong, former chief minister Mukul Sangma, alongside 11 rebel MLAs who have jumped ship to the TMC, said, “Congress has failed to play the role of the main opposition party in the country. We have taken a decision to merge with the Trinamool Congress.” Sangma has been upset with the Congress high command over the appointment of Shillong Lok Sabha MP Vincent H Pala as the state Congress chief in September. Ever since, there were murmurs of the man joining TMC. That the TMC would end up emptying the Congress’ rank and file to such a degree was certainly not expected by anybody.
Will this immediately result in TMC replicating Congress' performance in Meghalaya? I think not. At least in the near future, TMC has a huge task of making itself known. It will need to earn votes, and this mega coup will not fetch them immediate electoral dividends.
— Sanbeer Singh Ranhotra (@SSanbeer) November 24, 2021
Mukul Sangma added, “We need an effective opposition. We have raised this to the leadership in Delhi. We have made many trips to Delhi, but nothing happened… While looking for options for an opposition space, I ended up meeting my good friend Prashant Kishor ji, whom we all know, who can make a difference.” Prashant Kishor and his team have been camping in Meghalaya for quite a long time now.
Will the TMC now Replace Congress in Meghalaya?
Will the TMC’s magnificent coup immediately result in TMC replicating Congress’ performance in Meghalaya? Definitely not. At least in the near future, TMC has a huge task of making itself known. It will need to earn votes, and this mega coup will not fetch them immediate electoral dividends. In Meghalaya, the Congress’ hand-symbol is what people vote for. One may conduct a mega splash in Meghalaya and terrorise the Congress in Shillong, but in rural Meghalaya, people continue to vote for the hand symbol of the Congress, not because they are fans of the Grand Old Party, but because they have not voted for any other symbol their whole lives.
I know people in Meghalaya who voted for ‘Kti’ (the hand) cus of the Toilets built under Modi Govt’s schemes. Congress wins big in NE just with its grand old symbol, so when Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury challenges TMC to win with their own symbol, that’s what he’s talking about.
— Shubhangi Sharma (@ItsShubhangi) November 25, 2021
And if the TMC thinks it can easily penetrate Meghalaya, it is in for quite a surprise. TMC, essentially, is an outsider party in Meghalaya. And outsider parties are not favoured by the state’s tribal population. The only parties that tribals in Meghalaya trust are the Congress, or those born in the state, like the NPP and UDP. The BJP, meanwhile, is voted for by the non-tribals in the state. So, the only vote bank which the TMC can aim for is that of Congress. But how does the TMC aim to carve an ’indigenous’ image for itself in Meghalaya?
Here’s how. The most likely approach of the TMC here would be to exploit the faultlines that exist between the state’s tribal and non-tribal populations. In Meghalaya, the TMC cannot hope to win the Bengali votes. The Bengali community of Meghalaya traces its origins back to Bangladesh. They are people who know what it means to be stateless. And what Mamata Banerjee is doing in West Bengal is well known to Meghalaya’s Bengali community. How she protested against CAA, and how she opposed a nationwide NRC are all subjects fresh in Meghalaya’s memory. But again, the TMC could look to play the CAA card in Meghalaya, to win the tribal votes here – since the tribal population is against the implementation of CAA, even though the law has nothing to do with new, incoming refugees.
Essentially, Meghalaya could be entering a tense, possibly even violent phase with the entry of TMC. Mamata Banerjee’s proclivity for divisive politics is hardly unknown. The people of the state must get together and ensure the TMC’s plans for Meghalaya fail magnificently.