The recent defection of 12 of the 17 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya, led by former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, is another symbol of the Congress’ erosion in the state. The party will lose the post of main opposition in Meghalaya after these MLAs join the Trinamool Congress.
In Arunachal Pradesh, 43 of the then 44 Congress MLAs, including CM Pema Khandu, quit the Congress in September 2016, joining the People’s Party of Arunachal and remained in power; Months later, Khandu and a large number of MLAs joined the BJP.
In Arunachal, the BJP became the ruling party overnight; In Meghalaya, the Trinamool is set to become the main opposition party through a similar, hostile takeover.
Why was Sangma upset?
Sangma, the leader of the Congress Legislature Party, had been upset since August, when the central leadership appointed Shillong MP Vincent Pala as state Congress president in place of Celestine Lyngdoh. A dozen MLAs from Sangma and Garo Hills did not attend a function to honor Pala and newly appointed working presidents in Shillong in September.
In early October, there were reports that Sangma had met a Trinamool Congress leader in Kolkata and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Guwahati. Although Sangma denied all these things, the Congress leadership called the entire Meghalaya leadership, including Sangma, to Delhi that month. The Congress tried to give a message of unity ahead of the by-elections to three assembly seats, all of which were ultimately defeated.
Congress sources, on the other hand, say that Sangma had not been taking an active interest in the party’s affairs for some time, even though the party had made him the President of the North East Coordination Congress Committee.
Funds were another issue: Sources say Sangma felt that the Congress would not be able to fund the party’s campaign in a big way, a problem he felt the Trinamool would not face.
Sources said that members of Trinamool strategist Prashant Kishor’s team had been camping in Shillong for the last two months and were trying to persuade the MLAs to switch sides. His job was to convince the legislators that if a majority of them passed, they could avoid action under the anti-defection law.
State Congress sources said that the central leadership was aware of all this. In another attempt at synergy, AICC General Secretary (Organisation) KC Venugopal and AICC in-charge of Meghalaya Manish Chatrath met Sangma, Pala, senior leaders Charles Pyngrop and MPCC working presidents Amparin Lyngdoh, Marthan Sangma and James Lyngdoh on 18 November .
After the meeting, Sangma and Pala issued a joint statement vowing to strengthen all the forces of the party to effectively overcome obstacles and challenges in the 2023 Assembly elections. But by then, Congress central leaders had now realized that Sangma had already made up his mind, and that he was riding on the leadership.
Kishor is also said to have played a role in bringing former Goa Chief Minister Luizinho Faleiro and some others into the Trinamool Congress. Interestingly, Kishor was in touch with Rahul Gandhi and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra a few months back, and was reported to be joining the Congress. But unease among the party’s senior leadership over Kishor’s inclusion, reportedly coupled with the mandate to run and manage its campaign, prompted party chief Sonia Gandhi to shelve the proposal.
Congress in Confusion
In the 2018 assembly elections, the Congress, which was in power till then, emerged as the single largest party with 21 seats in the 60-member house. The National People’s Party of Conrad Sangma, who is now the chief minister, came second with 19 seats. Yet the BJP brought together Sangma’s NPP, some smaller parties and an independent MLA to prevent the Congress from coming to power.
The Congress had sent its top leaders – the late Ahmed Patel, the then Congress general secretary CP Joshi, Mukul Wasnik and Kamal Nath to Shillong to explore all options for government formation, but Himanta Biswa Sarma got the better of them. ,
Partition will now deepen the perception that Congress is not able to fix its house in different states. Anyway, the party is struggling to dispel the notion that it is drifting. It will be difficult to stand on my feet again in Meghalaya.
Rise of Trinamool
Partition will also change the political equation of Meghalaya. The rise of the Trinamool Congress – with no paucity of funds and an election strategist like Kishor – could pose a challenge to the ruling system as well.
The aggressive expansion drive of the Trinamool Congress has opened up a secular option for disgruntled Congress leaders, who had an ideological aversion to joining the BJP.
Be it Faleiro in Goa, Sushmita Dev in Assam or Laliteshpati Tripathi in UP, the crossing over of leaders has shown that there is now a secular alternative to the Congress, and it is a party that is in power in a state and is taking on the BJP aggressively. The Congress has always attacked the BJP for poaching its leaders and destabilising its governments; now it faces a similar threat from an opposition fellow traveller.
These moves will further strain the Congress-Trinamool Congress ties. This will not just cast a shadow on opposition floor coordination in Parliament, but impact the wider anti-BJP unity, a mantra which all opposition parties keep chanting, but which is increasingly looking like a mirage now.