Shillong, Feb 27: It's the incumbent Congress versus the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the National People's Party (NPP) as the battle to win Meghalaya Assembly elections reaches its ultimate stage. Both Meghalaya and Nagaland are voting for their respective Assembly elections on Tuesday. Voting in both the states will start from 7 am and will end at 4 pm (if all goes well). Earlier on February 18, the Tripura Assembly elections were held. The results of all the three Assembly elections will be declared by the Election Commission (EC) on March 3. All the three states have 60-member assemblies.
Out of these three states, Meghalaya elections are most important for the Congress. The Congress has been in power in the state for the last 15 years. In Tripura and Nagaland, the influence of Congress has almost diminished.
Will the Congress be able to retain Meghalaya at a time when it is facing stiff competition from both the BJP and the NPP? The BJP and the NPP have not forged any pre-poll alliance, however, both belong to the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA)--a political conglomeration headed by the saffron party and several other regional parties in the Northeast to thwart the Congress. There is every possibility that both the NPP and the BJP will come together after the election results will be out if they have the numbers.
In the last Assembly elections in 2013, the Congress bagged 29 out of the 60 seats in Meghalaya. Two years later, the Congress won the Chokpot Assembly bypoll in 2015 and its tally increased to 30 MLAs in the state Assembly. Interestingly, the BJP failed to win a single seat in the 2013 elections in the state. However, today, as Meghalaya is all set to vote, the BJP's strong campaign machinery has ensured that the party is one of the top contenders to form a government in the state after the results will be out.
The Congress has fielded 59 candidates, while the BJP has put up nominees in 47 constituencies. The NPP is fighting elections in 52 seats. In Meghalaya, the election has been countermanded in Williamnagar in the wake of the killing of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Jonathone N Sangma in a blast during campaigning a few days ago.
Since 2013, things have changed a lot for the Congress and chief minister Mukul Sangma, the face of the party in the elections. Along with strong anti-incumbency wave, the Congress is facing several challenges which include inter-party conflicts and desertions, ban on mining activities resulting in the loss of jobs for the locals, scams, security issues, and the unprecedented rise of the BJP in the Northeast since it came to power at the Centre in 2014.
Currently, the BJP is in power in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur in the Northeast. The BJP won its first Assembly elections in the Northeast during the Assam Assembly elections in 2016. The saffron party followed its winning streak in Manipur by grabbing power in the state after the Assembly elections in 2017. Currently, the Congress is ruling in Meghalaya and Mizoram in the region.
The BJP is desperately trying to come to power in all the three northeastern states to increase its national tally ahead of the all-important 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Currently, the BJP is in power in India's 19 states. The Congress, on the other hand, is now in power in only four states and one union territory. India has 29 states and seven union territories. The election results of all the three northeastern states are likely to change the tally for both the parties.
The Congress, on its part, has failed to come up with issues to counter the BJP and the NPP--headed by Conrad Kongkal Sangma, the son of former Lok Sabha speaker late PA Sangma. The NPP was founded in 2012. Conrad, an MP from the Tura constituency, enjoys strong support in Garo hills of Meghalaya and holds the key to government formation in the state. In fact, many are seeing him as the next CM of Meghalaya.
Compared to the BJP's strong and relentless campaign, the Congress managed to put up a lacklustre fight headed by CM Sangma. The BJP's resolve to win Meghalaya elections could be gauged from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spearheaded the campaign. Party chief Amit Shah, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Information and Broadcasting minister Smriti Irani and a host of other leaders also chipped in.
Union Minister of State for Tourism KJ Alphons, a Christian from Kerala, stayed put in Meghalaya as the BJP in-charge of the state with a predominantly Christian population. From the Congress, its president Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Meghalaya. He visited the state twice in the recent times. Its media chief Randeep Singh Surjewala and MP Shashi Tharoor extended helping hands.
Now, it needs to be seen if the people of Meghalaya will go for a "change" by rejecting the Congress and welcoming the BJP (an outsider), which is well-backed by the state's own party, the NPP.
Experts say in the Christian-dominated hill state, cry for a change is in the air, and the Congress' allegation that the BJP is communal might be rejected by the voters to embrace PM Modi's "development" (vikas).