As the single largest party, the Congress gets the leverage to experiment with permutations and combinations in power-sharing.
Once again, a hung verdict in the Assembly polls has posed a tough challenge before the political parties in Meghalaya to work out an arrangement of power-sharing to ensure political stability. There have been 18 governments in 35 years since the hill States inception and political instability led to change of guard three times in the past five years.
The Congress, which went to the March 3 polls alone harping on the stability plank, emerged the single largest party in the 60-member Assembly, but fell short of the majority mark of 31 by six seats. The fractured verdict, however, gave the party the leverage to experiment with various permutations and combinations of powersharing.
The remaining seats were divided among three regional parties, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and independents. Of the 59 results declared, the Congress secured 25, the NCP 14 and the United Democratic Party (UDP) 11. The Hill State Peoples Democratic Party (HSPDP) won two seats, the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) and the BJP got one each, and independents five. Polling in the Baghmara constituency was rescheduled for March 22 following the death of the Congress candidate.
The Congress won 22 seats in the 2003 elections but its tally in the Assembly increased to 29 after six NCP legislators defected to the party and it won a byelection. This caused a slight modification in the composition of the D.D. Lapang-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) in the outgoing Assembly: Congress 29, the UDP nine, the KHNAM two, the HSPDP two, the Meghalaya Democratic Party (MDP) four and independents three. Lapang was replaced as Chief Minister by J.D. Rymbai, but after nine months he recaptured the hot seat.
Despite squabbling within the coalition, the regional parties never withdrew their support to the Congress and ensured that the State did not have to go to midterm polls. However, as the polls approached, they quit the ruling alliance to go back to the people seeking a vote against the corruption and misrule of the Congress. And while the UDP improved its tally by two seats, the HSPDP managed to retain its two seats in the Assembly. The KHNAMs strength fell to one. The MDP was wiped out.
Despite going hammer and tongs at the Congress, the NCP failed to put up a tough fight, which the party had hoped to do under the leadership of former Lok Sabha Speaker and party general secretary Purno Agitok Sangma, who projected himself as a chief ministerial candidate. Sangma had the charisma, but the organisational base of the NCP was found wanting.
The partys main plank of vote for change did not help it make a dent in the Congress bastion in the Khasi and Jaintia hills; the NCP won 14 seats from here in the 2003 elections. Of the 14 seats it won this time, 12 were from the Garo hills. The party could win only two of the total 34 seats in the Khasi and Jaintia hills.
Even in the Garo hills, the NCPs performance fell short of its expectations; it secured only half the total 24 seats here. The NCP had raked up the twin incidents of police firing in Tura and Williamnagar in which nine protesters were killed. The protest rallies on September 30, 2005, under the aegis of the Garo Students Union (GSU), were against the Congress-led coalition governments move to shift the headquarters of the Meghalaya Board of Secondary Education (MBoSE) from Tura to Shillong. The NCP distributed CDs of the twin incidents, hoping to garner votes in Garo hills. But, as the results indicate, it turned out to be a non-issue.
Of the remaining 11 constituencies where polling was held, the Congress won seven, the UDP one and independents three. It now remains to be seen who will have the last laugh in Baghmara where polling has been rescheduled for March 22 as every single seat will matter in a hung Assembly.
While announcing his return to State politics after three decades in the Lok Sabha, during which time his popularity reached a peak as the Speaker of the House, Sangma indicated his long-term plan of grooming his two sons, James Sangma and Conrad Sangma, to be in the saddle. Both of them have been elected to the Assembly on the NCP ticket, James from Rongshuguri and Conrad from Selsella constituency.
Justifying the nomination of his sons, Sangma told Frontline on the sidelines of an election rally: They would have been rotting in the village had the people not elected me to the Lok Sabha. Whatever they are today is because of the people. They got good education only because I was sent as an MP by the people. They owe a lot to the people. Conrad took an MBA from the United Sates and James a postgraduate degree in mass communication from the United Kingdom.
While the NCPs strength was confined to the Garo hills, the Congress seats came from across the Khasi, Jaintia and Garo hills that comprise the Meghalaya State; this despite four Cabinet Ministers and 12 sitting legislators of the Congress losing their seats. This prompted Chief Minister Lapang to assert that the party had been given the mandate by all sections of people to rule the State for another term in coalition with other parties and legislators. People have expressed faith in the Congress and our party has emerged as the single largest party as we enjoy the support of all communities, he told Frontline after being re-elected from the Nongpoh constituency. The two Deputy Chief Ministers in the MDA government Donkupar Roy (UDP) and Mukul Sangma (Congress) were re-elected to the Assembly from Shella and Ampatigiri.
The BJPs strength diminished to just one seat from the two it won in 2003. When the lotus bloomed for the first time in Meghalaya in 1998, the party won two seats. In 2003, the BJP contested 28 seats and won just two; its vote share in the State then was 5.42 per cent. This time the party contested 20 seats, and its poor performance is likely to dampen its hope to secure more seats from the north-eastern region in the Lok Sabha polls.
The election results also reflected the voters dissatisfaction with the performance of a number of sitting legislators. There will be 25 new faces in the Assembly this time. However, of the 19 women candidates who contested in the matrilineal society of Meghalaya, only one emerged victorious. Ampareen Lyngdoh of the UDP, who won from Laitumkhrah, is the lone female representative in the House.