As the Lok Sabha elections approach, the National People’s Party (NPP) led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma occupies a strategically significant position in the political landscape. With alliances both at the national level with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and regional considerations in states like Meghalaya, the NPP’s stance and actions are of importance.
In an interview with Abhijit Deb, the young CM talked about his relationship with the BJP-led government at the Centre and his party’s position on some of the key issues confronting the North East in general, Meghalaya in particular.
Q. How is your alliance with the NDA going, and what will be the NPP’s stance in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections?
A: The NPP has a long-standing alliance with the NDA at the national level and forms a coalition with the BJP in Meghalaya. While we maintain our historical ties, it’s essential to establish our unique identity and presence in specific areas. We emphasise the importance of contesting elections on our own terms, driven by our vision to provide a strong platform for the North East region. While we maintain a cooperative approach with the NDA, we are prepared to assert our independence if we perceive any marginalisation.
Q. You’ve recently met with heads of various regional parties at the national level, including Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao. Is a new political alliance shaping up?
A: My recent meeting with Chief Minister KCR of Telangana was to learn from successful governance models. For that matter I keep on visiting states like Delhi, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu to study the successful models and how we can replicate them for the benefit of the people of Meghalaya. My visit was completely related to economics. However, political issues do come up. As I said while remaining committed to our NDA affiliation, the NPP remains open to the possibility of contesting elections independently if the situation demands it.
Q. There are rumours of many BJP members within the state joining NPP in Meghalaya. What is your response to this?
A: In the dynamic landscape of politics, I acknowledge that individuals may switch parties. We believe in providing space for such shifts while keeping our primary focus on advancing the North East agenda. This commitment extends to being willing to contest elections even against the BJP, if circumstances require it.
Q. How has connectivity improved in a remote state like Meghalaya?
A: We commend the success of the UDAN scheme, advocating for subsidised flight rates between Shillong and Delhi. We have also urged the Civil Aviation Ministry to consider upgrading Shillong to an international airport. Additionally, there have been marked improvements in road connectivity, particularly between Shillong and Guwahati, as well as enhanced interconnectivity among North Eastern states.
Q. Regarding the resolution of the Coal Mining Ban in Meghalaya, what is the way forward?
A: Despite challenges posed by bans and legal battles, our government has made progress toward resuming mining operations in four mines. The coal mining ban had detrimental effects on government revenue, job opportunities, and the local economy, highlighting the significance of reinstating mining for the state’s financial stability and the livelihoods of many families.
Q. What is your stance on uranium mining in Meghalaya?
A: Our government maintains a cautious stance on uranium mining, emphasising the need for comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders to address safety concerns. At present, we do not support uranium mining in Meghalaya.
Q. What are your thoughts on the Manipur Imbroglio and what could have been done to stop the ethnic violence?
A: The prolonged Manipur issue and the damage it has caused is immense. Decisions, including the possibility of a leadership change or invoking President’s rule, lie with the Central government. However, we stress the urgency of substantial political engagement to rebuild confidence and heal divisions between Kukis and Meities in Manipur.
Q. Could Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit heal the situation?
A: Unfortunately, it may be too late as much damage has already been done, leading to growing mistrust between Kuki and Meitei communities after prolonged violence. However, as the head of the country, the Prime Minister should visit the state and attempt to instill confidence in the people who have been affected by the violence.
Q. The North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), a platform of non-Congress parties, was launched to create a unified voice for the North East. Has it delivered on its objectives?
A: While acknowledging NEDA’s potential as a platform for addressing regional issues and fostering cooperation among North Eastern states, there are concerns about its underutilised potential due to infrequent meetings. NEDA could have played a significant role in addressing critical issues such as the Manipur dispute and the Assam-Mizoram border issue. Additionally, there was a proposal to establish a cultural centre in Assam to promote regional unity and development, but that has not materialised.
Q. You have been vocal on issues concerning the North East states, such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Can we expect Conrad Sangma to take on leadership roles on issues that concern the entire North East region in the future?
A: My leadership is dedicated to championing North East issues and unifying the region’s voice on the national stage. I see youth empowerment, tourism promotion, and the Act East policy as potential drivers for creating a unified North East voice in Indian politics. I have taken up issues like the CAA with the central government, even though I didn’t receive support from the BJP. In politics, numbers matter, so as we expand our base, I will continue to advocate for the North East agenda with the Centre for the overall benefit of the region.