Poll pundits predict a hung assembly in Meghalaya, where elections to the 60-member House will be held on 27 February.
With no party set to win even a simple majority, Meghalaya will witness the familiar hectic deals by parties to stitch together alliances. And this is where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is said to hold an edge.
That’s because the saffron party’s pointsman in the Northeast — Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma — will oversee and guide the alliance-formation talks on behalf of his party. And there is no one in the entire region who can surpass Sarma’s political skills.
Sarma, an astute politician, is a past master in this game and had been instrumental in captaining the formation of Congress or Congress-led government in the hill state, in the past when he was with that party.
Sarma has excellent ties with leading politicians from all parties and shares close personal bonds with many of them. Many are even beholden to the Assam chief minister for their political careers and other favours extended to them.
With Sarma guiding negotiations on government-formation after the declaration of results on 2 March, BJP leaders in Meghalaya are confident that the party would be part of the next ruling coalition.
There’s yet another reason for this optimism among BJP leaders. They point out that the regional parties of small states of the region have a history of aligning with the party that is in power at the federal level.
“This started during the long years of Congress rule at the centre. All Congress regimes in New Delhi would ensure installation of Congress or Congress-led coalition governments in the Northeastern states three means fair and foul,” said state BJP president Ernest Mawrie.
“Even though the present NDA regime at the Centre has refrained from resorting to dirty tricks to entice or force regional parties to align with it, the tendency of the regional parties to seek alignment with the party in power at the centre to form governments remains,” Mawrie added.
Political analyst Darylang War explained that this tendency is rooted in the poor resource base of the states of the region.
“None of the small states (excluding Assam) can mobilise enough resources on their own to even pay the salaries of their employees. So they are critically dependent on funds from the Union Government. This vulnerability leads politicians and parties of the tribal states to align themselves most of the time with the party in power at the centre,” said War.
The Likely Outcome Of Polls:
Swarajya spoke to a number of politicians of all parties, political workers across the spectrum, a wide cross-section of people from across the state, civil society leaders, social workers, professionals and functionaries in traditional tribal bodies.
Based on all such interviews and conversations, what appears certain is that no party will get a majority to form the government on its own.
The National People’s Party (NPP), which led the (MDA) that ruled the state over the past five years, is likely to emerge as the single largest party with 20 to 25 seats.
The Trinamool Congress is predicted to win between 12 and 15 seats, most of them in the Garo Hills and just a couple in the Khasi Hills. That's because most of the 12 MLAs who broke away from the Congress in November 2021, to form the Trinamool unit in the state, are from the Garo Hills.
The Congress had 17 MLAs in the House when the 12 MLAs, led by former chief minister Mukul Sangma, defected to the Trinamool. The remaining five also left the party and joined the NPP last year.
The Congress, which won 21 seats in 2018, has suffered a steady stream of defections and is left with no MLAs now. That has severely demoralised its remaining workers and, at many places in the state, the Congress doesn’t even have an organisational presence.
The Congress, a badly depleted force in Meghalaya now, is not likely to win more than 4 to 5 seats. While many of the Congress supporters in the Garo Hills are likely to vote for the Trinamool, a similar transfer of votes is most unlikely in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills.
A large number of Congress supporters in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, say political analysts, are likely to vote for regional parties, especially the United Democratic Party (UDP), which has strong roots in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills.
The UDP is, thus, likely to repeat or even improve its 2018 performance when it won eight seats. The party is predicted to bag between eight and ten seats this time.
The BJP, despite ambitious projections by its leaders, will win six to eight seats. But that in itself will mark an impressive improvement on its 2018 performance when it won just two seats.
“The BJP’s vote share (9.6 per cent in 2018) will register an impressive increase, but the party’s tally is not likely to reach the two-digit figure,” said War.
The remaining seats will be shared by Independents and small regional parties like the (PDF), the (HDPDP) and the newly-formed Voice Of People Party (VOPP).
The Post-Poll Scenario:
The fractured mandate will trigger hectic efforts at forming alliances between parties. The NPP and the Trinamool Congress, which will most likely emerge as the two largest parties, will lead the negotiations and try to win over the other parties in a bid to form the government.
The NPP enjoys an edge here as it had successfully led the ruling coalition over the last five years. It has good ties with the constituents of the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) that it led — the BJP, UDP, PDF and HSPDP and will leverage that to renew the alliance once again with them.
The Trinamool Congress, though, suffers from one major disadvantage: it will have to leave out the BJP and the NPP while trying to cobble an alliance with other parties.
The Trinamool’s chief ministerial candidate and its primary leader in Meghalaya, Mukul Sangma, is a staunch adversary of NPP chief and present Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and there cannot be an alliance between the two main political opponents.
Also, the Trinamool’s top leadership (read: Mamata Banerjee) will never allow the party in Meghalaya to enter into a post-poll alliance with the BJP. Any understanding or alliance between the Trinamool and the BJP in Meghalaya will cause immense harm to Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and also at the national level, since she is projecting herself as a prime opponent of the saffron party.
But Mukul Sangma is an ambitious man and will be very keen on becoming the chief minister, even if that means, taking the help of the BJP.
If Mukul Sangma feels that Mamata Banerjee’s antipathy towards the BJP is coming in the way of him becoming the chief minister, he will have no second thoughts in walking away from the Trinamool with a majority, if not all, the MLAs that would have won the elections on Trinamool tickets.
Sangma, and the others in the Trinamool, do not have any ideological commitments towards the Trinamool which, anyway, lacks a credible ideology. They joined the Trinamool for purely opportunistic reasons, and will have no qualms in moving away from the party.
This had happened with legislators in Manipur who had won elections on Trinamool tickets. Post elections, they left the party in order to be part of ruling coalitions in that state. There is no reason why this will not happen in Meghalaya as well in March.
And, as already mentioned, there’s the Himanta Biswa Sarma factor. He will play a central role in the formation of post-poll alliances and, thus, the BJP in Meghalaya can rest assured that it will be part of the next ruling alliance in the state.
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