Elections to Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya are scheduled for February-March 2018. The Congress government in Meghalaya, headed by the suave and articulate Mukul Sangma, faces serious anti-incumbency, what with senior ministers and MLAs deserting the sinking ship and joining other parties. In fact, the biggest gainer in this game of musical chairs is the National People’s Party, formed in 2012 by the late PA Sangma.
In Meghalaya, if elections were to have been held in 2015, the BJP might have secured quite a few seats. At the time there was much expectation that the saffron party would bring an end to corruption and kickstart progressive governance, free from the stranglehold of dynastic politics. Indeed dynastic politics has such a stronghold in Meghalaya that from the chief minister’s family alone there are three members in the state legislature.
They are his wife Dikanchi Shira and his brother Zenith Sangma, who is also a minister. In PA Sangma’s family too every member other than the eldest daughter, who is abroad, is a political aspirant. Apart from Conrad Sangma, the MP who replaced his late father, there are Agatha Sangma, a former Union minister of state in the UPA government, and James Sangma, who is an MLA. This certainly seems to be a tribal trait, and right now, people are carping about this concentration of political power within one or two families. So if Meghalaya had gone to the polls in 2015 the BJP might have won quite a few seats but as of today it will be struggling to get even 10 MLAs. The reasons are many.
The first jolt that came for the people of Meghalaya was the proposed ban on cow slaughter attributed to the NDA Government, and the killings and lynching that followed the call for the ban. This was a direct threat to the eating habits of the tribals for whom beef is a staple fare. Secondly, the rise in radical Hinduism has made people of this region wonder what would happen to religious minorities in the country. And now, every day one or the other leader from the BJP, including elected MPs, takes rigid positions on matters of religion, including the sacred cow. There is a tendency to tell anyone who does not share the same cultural nationalism and reverence for the cow to “Go to Pakistan”.
Such a party cannot endear itself to the tribes, many of whom are already reduced to minorities in their homeland such as the tribals of Tripura. Therefore those MLAs in the Mukul Sangma government who were waiting to jump ship now feel it is easier to convince people to vote for the NPP, which although a constituent of the NDA Government at the Centre, is also seen as a regional outfit. Many senior Congressmen have abandoned their parent party and joined the NPP. Among the regional parties in Meghalaya the United Democratic Party and the Hill State Peoples’ Democratic Party have formed a pre-election coalition.
The UDP-HSPDP combine has a good chance to win more seats this time than ever before. But in case it is short of the magic figure of 31, it will most probably tie up with the NPP and the BJP and form a hotchpotch government in 2018. The Congress will find it hard to convince people to vote for it this time too, since there are gaping gaps in governance.
The roads are a good indicator. The denizens of Shillong city, who used to boast of their good roads, are now crying foul. The chief minister has given the PWD portfolio to an MLA who is also heading a construction company in which several members of his family are stakeholders. He has turned the PWD into a fiefdom and got all the road construction projects in his firm’s name. As a result the roads in Meghalaya today are almost non-existent. He and his brother, also an MLA, have now joined the NPP. They have also roped in their brother-in-law who will also be contesting this time around. So much for political parties claiming they will fight corruption! In Tripura, the CPI-M is also facing anti-incumbency despite chief minister Manik Sarkar’s claims that his government has done its best.
As in West Bengal the Marxist cadres have gone on a rampage but so too the Indigenous Peoples’ Front of Tripura which has, in recent times, asserted itself more aggressively and even demanded a separate state. What is troubling is the violence in Tripura, ostensibly ignited by the BJP, which is also campaigning like there’s no tomorrow.
The BJP has unleashed one of the most formidable RSS ideologues, Sunil Deodhar to lay the groundwork for the 2018 election. The party is trying hard to woo the tribal political groups but the tribes are unsure if the alliance with the BJP will be of any advantage unless the party commits to delivering statehood on a platter. Other than that the IPFT does not believe it will gain anything by playing ball with this national party. The Congress, of course, is in tatters in Tripura with many having left the party to join the BJP or the Trinamul Congress.
No one is in a position to say whether a new dispensation will take charge in Agartala in 2018 or if third-term chief minister Manik Sarkar will return despite the attrition in his party and the peoples’ desire for change.
The fact of the matter is that the tribal areas of Tripura remain unattended and the tribal voices are completely subsumed by a party (CPI-M) headed by a Bengali who is seen as the symbol of oppression and representing all that is part of the process of reducing the tribes to a poor minority in their homeland. The only problem with the Tiprasa people — as the tribes of Tripura are called — is the absence of a credible leadership.
NC Debbarma, who leads the IPFT, is an octogenarian with not much vision or political resources at his command. The tribals could do with a more robust and cerebral leader who could give Manik Sarkar a run for his money. As far as Nagaland is concerned, there is now a crescendo building up that elections will not be allowed unless the Naga Framework Agreement is wrapped up and rolled out. But be that as it may, the Naga People’s Front, which is split down the middle with Neiphiu Rio and TR Zeliang on one side and Shurhozelie on the other, is still keen on a partnership with the BJP. In fact it is alleged that the Nagaland Governor, PB Acharya was the one who engineered the fall of the Shurhozelie Government and helped to re-instate Zeliang who had to step down in February this year on account of the violence that followed the proposed election to urban local body with a 33 per cent reservation for women.
As can be expected in a patriarchal Nagaland there was a huge outcry against reservation for women in urban local bodies even though the Supreme Court, where the case was pending, would have ruled in favour of the Naga Mothers’ Association, which had moved the petition had it not withdrawn the case due to life threats to its members. In any case there is no strong contender to the NPF as the Congress too is out on a limb.
Having been out of power since 2003, the Congress is unable to get its act together and elections in Nagaland cost a bomb! So, for now, the NPF looks like the only contender with the BJP coming a clear second. But there’s always a slip between the cup and the lip and elections are a dicey game to predict. A clearer picture could emerge by January next year.
(The writer is Editor of the Shillong Times and can be contacted at [email protected])