By Ashutosh pandey
There’s nothing new about power politics and emotional outcry in electoral campaigns across India. From poll rigging to violence, assembly elections in many parts of India are often not just an electoral exercise, but also a time to flex cadre strength and mobilisation of supporters at the booth level. Nowhere is this trend more pronounced than in the Indian state of West Bengal.
From the eve of Independence, the history of West Bengal has been marred by violence and vendetta. From Operation Barga which displaces the rural aristocracy to Naxalbari which raised the flag of rebellion against its own elected leaders, West Bengal Politics has always been in the news for the wrong reasons. Meghalaya in stark contrast has always pursued the agenda of development despite all challenges. The state’s remote location and hilly terrain have been a challenge to policymakers, but undeterred, Meghalaya has achieved higher human development than almost every state in North East India. In HDI rank Meghalaya is placed 12 notches above West Bengal despite various inherent advantages to West Bengal like access to the sea, Industrial
infrastructure and large consumer base.
What explains this relative success of Meghalaya, vis-a-vis other states in the North East? It is the legacy of developmental politics in the state, with Dr Purno Agitok Sangma (P.A Sangma) being the greatest representative of this robust democratic culture. P.A. Sangma undoubtedly has been the greatest leader of the North East India post independence. As speaker of Lok Sabha, he was the face of polity in the North East in the Central Government. However, despite his mind-boggling success in Central politics, Dr PA. Sangma never hesitated to stand up against Congress party leadership, when he sensed the decline of internal politics with the Congress party.
His return to active politics in Meghalaya independently too was not smooth, in the assembly elections of 2013, RA. Sangma’s newfound party NPP could win only two seats. His huge political stature did not stop him from sitting in opposition benches. He did not compromise on ideology to be part of the ruling coalition, a proposition that is unheard of in North Eastern Politics. This was a huge political risk, however, the people of Meghalaya did not disappoint the new party. NPP is now incumbent under the leadership of Conrad Sangma, who despite being the Chief Minister, has still nurtured that zeal, which distinguishes him from other mainstream politicians from the
region like Himanta Biswa Sarma and Pema Khandu.
Of late, things have started changing in Meghalaya. Ex. Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Mr. Mukul Sangma moved to Trinamool Congress with his supporters in 2021. Ina single stroke, Mukul Sangma permanently destroyed the prospects of Congress in the State and made TMC the single largest opposition party in Meghalaya. TMC was naturally delighted with the development however, with little understanding of Meghalayan politics, Trinamool is struggling to find the resonance of its voice in the masses. Challenges to Trinamool are multi-pronged, but evidently, it is the incumbent chief Minister Conrad Sangma, who is the single biggest challenge to TMC’s poll prospects. TMC which has been highly successful against the high-adrenaline campaigns of Narendra Modi is pinned by the decent, and progress-driven narrative built by NPP in the leadership of Conrad Sangma, While TMC specialises poll promises and emotional appeals, Conrad Sangma’s gentlemen politics is what TMC has no answer to. As a peace-loving state, with diverse composite culture, Conrad Sangma’s style of politics has much wider appeal. While TMC’s poll pitch is based on promises, NPP’s communication is driven by the delivery and success of his government’s endeavours in the last five years. Success of his government’s programs is something even his greatest political critiques can’t dismiss; be it the success of National Health Programs, Agriculture or Infrastructure evelopment in the state.
While Conrad Sangma has been at the receiving end of multiple personal attacks, he has carefully confined his communication to positive achievements of his government and steered clear of any indecent comments against the opposition leaders. This is something TMC’s political pundits and leadership fear the most; playing in the pitch of development where TMC’s record can be best considered below average.
Elections in Meghalaya are going to be a landmark in the electoral history of not just Meghalaya but the entire North East. The results will decide the course of political discourse in the region which will at the end have far-reaching consequences on
electoral narratives that contending parties will pursue in the future.
Ashutosh Pandey is a Political Analyst & Consultant. He has been keenly tracking political development in Northeastern region since 2014.