One Year After Its Backdoor Entry Into Meghalaya, Trinamool Staring At Steep Stumble In The Hill State

One Year After Its Backdoor Entry Into Meghalaya, Trinamool Staring At Steep Stumble In The Hill State

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Wednesday, November 30, 2022 04:50 PM IST
One Year After Its Backdoor Entry Into Meghalaya, Trinamool Staring At Steep Stumble In The Hill StateA year after its debut in Meghalaya, the Trinamool is facing desertions.
  • The Trinamool’s vaunted ambitions to spread its wings beyond Bengal is bound to suffer yet another setback.

    It has relied on engineering defections from other parties, instead of investing political capital in growing organically, say analysts.

The Trinamool Congress made a spectacular backdoor entry into Meghalaya by engineering defection of a dozen Congress legislators into the party exactly a year ago. 

The provincial party of Bengal which had no presence in the hill state, pulled off a veritable coup by admitting the ‘dirty dozen’ from the Congress into its fold. 

The Trinamool’s prize catch was former chief minister Mukul Sangma, and included many senior Congress MLAs. The defectors escaped the anti-defection law since they formed more than two-thirds of the 17-member Congress Legislature Party. 

But a year after its debut in Meghalaya, the Trinamool is facing desertions. Earlier this week, its senior legislator, Himalaya Muktan Shangpliang, resigned from the party and is set to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). 

Shangpliang, a former IAS officer who was the MLA from Mawsynram (the wettest place in the world), was the Trinamool’s most prominent face in the Khasi & Jaintia Hills, said he was deeply unhappy with the Trinamool leadership. 

What is more, a few other MLAs who followed Mukul Sangma into the Trinamool are also planning to cut off ties with the Bengal party.

A huge number of workers and ground-level functionaries who had left the Congress and joined Mamata Banerjee’s party last year and early this year, are disillusioned and have already left the party or are planning to leave soon. 

The primary reason for the steady stream of departures from the Trinamool in Meghalaya is the strong public perception that the party (Trinamool) is a Bengal-based party. 

“The top leaders of the Trinamool are all Bengalis and it is seen as a party of dkhars (a pejorative for outsiders or non-tribals). People at the grassroots do not appreciate our association with a dkhar party,” David Marbainiang, a functionary of the Trinamool unit of Nongthymmai assembly constituency in state capital Shillong told Swarajya.

Marbaniang said that the local (Nongthymmai) legislator Charles Pynrope, who defected to the Trinamool from the Congress a year ago, is also feeling uncomfortable in the ‘party of Bengalis’.

“The Trinamool is an alien party with no roots in Meghalaya. It is a regional party of Bengal and is widely viewed as an opportunistic party which wants to rule Meghalaya from Bengal,” said Marbaniang. He has already left the Trinamool and returned to the Congress. 

“There is acute ground-level resentment against the Trinamool in Meghalaya and all those who joined the party (Trinamool) including the MLAs, are acutely aware of this. So many are planning a course correction and will leave the party. If they contest the next Assembly elections (due in February next year) on Trinamool tickets, they will lose their deposits,”  Aurelius Suchiang, a former Trinamool office-bearer in Sutnga Saipung constituency told Swarajya

Suchiang, who joined the BJP last month, said that the local MLA Shitlang Pale who had defected from the Congress to the Trinamool last year is “only too aware” of local sentiments against the Trinamool.

“He (Pale) is facing growing criticism from his constituents and supporters, and may leave the party before the elections,” he added. 

The Trinamool is slightly better off in the five districts in the Garo Hills which sends 24 MLAs to the 60-member state legislative assembly.

Of these 24 MLAs, eight are with the Trinamool (having defected from the Congress), 13 are with the National People’s Party (led by incumbent Chief Minister Conrad Sangma), one belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party while another is an Independent.

Of the 13 MLAs with the ruling National People’s Party (NPP), two joined the BJP earlier this week. 

“In the Garo Hills, the Trinamool rides solely on the popularity of former chief minister Mukul Sangma. But even there, the Trinamool is viewed as a party of outsiders. And if Mukul Sangma remains with the Trinamool and leads it in next-year’s Assembly elections, the party will, at best, win four to five seats in the Garo Hills,” said Janice D Shira, a professor of political science in Tura.

Dikkanchi M Sangma, a close relative of legislator Jimmy Sangma (one of the 12 MLAs who defected from the Congress to the Trinamool last year) told Swarajya that while the antipathy towards the ‘outsider’ Trinamool is considerably less in the Garo Hills, the Bengal-based party is nonetheless perceived there to be an opportunistic party without any roots in Meghalaya. 

“Everyone in Meghalaya understands that (former chief minister) Mukul Sangma left the Congress because of deep differences with the state Congress president Vincent Pala and after he was sidelined in the national party,” said Shira.

Shira added,"He could not have joined any other regional party in Meghalaya or the BJP, so defecting to the Trinamool was the only option before him. And the other eleven MLAs followed him into the Trinamool out of a deep sense of personal loyalty to him. They were all Mukul Sangma’s loyalists in the Congress,”  

Political analyst and commentator E S Thangkhiew agrees with Shira.

“The Trinamool thought that it would gain a quick entry into Meghalaya by inducting the 12 MLAs. But the twelve MLAs did not take into account how their constituents, especially the tribals, would view the entry of the Trinamool into Meghalaya,” said Thangkhiew. 

“It is only now that they (the MLAs who joined the Trinamool) have understood that their constituents view the Trinamool as a Bengali party which cannot be allowed to have any stakes in Meghalaya. Trinamool is too closely associated with Mamata Banerjee and her nephew who have no connection with Meghalaya and do not understand anything about the state,” Thangkhiew added. 

The erosion in Trinamool’s ranks will gain momentum as elections draw nearer, say political observers. They say that in the best-case scenario, the Trinamool can win five seats. 

But there is absolutely no guarantee that the MLAs who win on Trinamool tickets will remain with the party.

“That’s because those MLAs will have no commitment towards the party or its ideology. And, as had happened in Manipur earlier, we will see the handful of Trinamool MLAs happily defecting to a constituent of the coalition which comes to power,” said Thangkhiew 

The Trinamool won seven seats in Manipur in the 2012 Assembly elections, but all seven MLAs defected to other parties soon after the elections. It won just one seat in the 2017 Assembly polls, but that lone MLA also left the party.

The Trinamool was totally wiped out and drew a blank in last year’s polls in Manipur. 

That scenario, say analysts, will repeat itself in Meghalaya too because the Trinamool has relied on engineering defections from other parties, instead of investing political capital in growing organically, in both the states. 

“Relying solely on defections from other parties to establish its presence in a state where it has no roots works only in the short term for a political party and the gains are only temporary. The Trinamool is an alien party and has no connection with the tribals of Meghalaya who perceive it to be a Bengali party limited to West Bengal. So it has no prospects in Meghalaya,” said Thangkhiew. 

The Trinamool’s vaunted ambitions to spread its wings beyond Bengal is, thus, bound to suffer yet another setback. After Goa and Tripura, Mamata Banerjee seems destined to face bitter disappointment in Meghalaya as well. 

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