A large voter turnout is normally a disconcerting sign for any incumbent government. And it seemed the ruling Congress party had a tricky scenario to counter when over 88% voters turned up to exercise their franchise in the Meghalaya Assembly polls on February 23. When the 15-lakh-odd voters in the 60 constituencies defied a 36-hour bandh called by the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) in the Garo hills, the forecast looked more skewed against Congress Chief Minister Mukul Sangma. But it seems Congress has held fort after all.
It may be noted over 15,03,907, including 7,59,608 women, had voted to seal the fate of 345 candidates that belonged to 15 political parties and independents, including 25 women. The assembly elections of 2008 had seen Congress win 25 seats, falling 6 short of a clear majority mark.
The CM was hoping that his party could come close to the half-way mark and before the counting began, he was quoted as saying, “I have reasons to believe that in the worst situation, we would be close to the half-way mark. In a good situation, we can cross 31."
He almost hit the bull’s eye. Congress bettered its previous tally by 4, and won 29 seats.
Congress’ coalition partners, UDP, bagged eight seats, thereby painting a rosy picture for the alliance.
NCP and NPP won two each while others bagged 19.
Major Rallying Factors
Since Meghalaya’s attainment of statehood in 1972, its political instability has been infamous. In 41 years, the state has seen 23 chief ministers with the first CM, Captain Williamson Sangma, being the only one to ever lead a single-party government.
Also a major reason for the political instability in the state is the clout of the coal and mining and cement industry which is said to have enough say to topple governments in the state. A large fraction of those contesting in the polls were said to have some stake in the powerful lobby. Such is their clout that in the past five years this power-block is said to have been behind toppling of four governments and even influenced enforcement of President’s Rule in the state.
Former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma’s newly formed National People`s Party contested in 32 of the 60 seats and Sangma himself campaigned hard for his sons—Conrad and James. His poll plank was based on uniting the tribal voters under the slogan that their leader (Sangma) could be the next President of the country. But voters seem not to have bitten into the bait. His party managed only two seats and his son, Conrad, was defeated.
Part of Meghalayan political folklore is Hill State People`s Democratic Party (HSPDP)’s veteran leader Hoping Stone Lyngdoh. He possesses the enviable record of having featured in the rosters of all the elected assemblies so far. And voters from Nongstoin elected him their representative for the eighth consecutive term in 2013.
Chief Minister Mukul Sangma (Congress) won the Ampati seat defeating his nearest National Peoples Party (NPP) rival Clement G Momin.
Meghalaya’s lone woman legislator, Ampareen Lyngdoh, retained her urban 16 East Shillong seat by beat her nearest rival and former deputy chief minister B M Lanong (UDP) by over 4000 votes.
Cabinet Minister H D R Lyngdoh (Congress) won by a margin of over 3000 votes over his lone rival and UDP candidate B Kharphuli at Sohiong.
Prestone Tynsong (Congress) retained his Pynursla seat by beating B Khongwar (UDP).
Rowell Lyngdoh (Congress) defeated Hadrian Lyngdoh (Independent) in Mawkyrwat constituency.
Ardent Basaiawmoit (HSPDP) retained his 22-Nongkrem seat.
Nihim D Shira (NPP) won the Songsak seat thereby opening the account for his newly-formed party.
James Pangsang Kongkal Sangma (NPP) wins in Dadenggre.
Among the prominent losers were cabinet ministers B.M Lanong (UDP) who lost to Ampareen Lyngdoh and J.A Lyngdoh (UDP) who lost to Kennedy Khyriem (Congress), both in East Khasi Hills district.
All in all, it appears the Congress was right in choosing Mukul Sangma as the party’s face in the state. However, the results also call for massive introspection by PA Sangma whose dreams of returning to a powerful role in the Centre (read plum ministry or Presidential candidature) seem further distant now.