Gloves are out: Sitting NPP MLAs set to join BJP in Meghalaya

Hard politics have been kicked off on ground. Gloves are virtually out among allies. Much to the chagrin of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, a few sitting NPP MLAs now are set to join the saffron party. The Lotus outfit is doing a lot of groundwork in Meghalaya - where the party could win only two seats in 2018.

The formal withdrawal of support to the Conrad Sangma government in Meghalaya by the two-MLA strong BJP is yet to be announced.

But hard politics have been kicked off on ground. Gloves are virtually out among allies. Much to the chagrin of Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, a few sitting NPP MLAs now are set to join the saffron party.

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The Lotus outfit is doing a lot of groundwork in Meghalaya - where the party could win only two seats in 2018.

In some Assembly segments, the BJP leaders have started burning midnight oil trying to enlist the 'support' from the erstwhile Congress vote-share and some from the kitties of Independent candidates of 2018.

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"In many constituencies even managing to get 50-60 per cent of the Congress vote share and votes polled by Independents can do magic for the BJP...The 2023 polls in Christian-stronghold Meghalaya is crucial for the party's battle in states such as Telangana and Chhattisgarh and also the 2024 battle which will be Modi's hat-trick polls," the source said.

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A key Assam leader and state BJP office-bearer has been engaged recently to help the trio M. Chuba Ao (national vice president and in-charge Meghalaya) and two other leaders Sambit Patra and Rituraj Sinha.

Chuba is a senior Naga BJP leader and thus his Christian background is also working as an advantage.

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These leaders have already started travelling rural areas mostly separately. The Assam-based leader was assigned by BJP general secretary (Organisation) B.L. Santhosh to submit a detailed report "in confidence".

Details of that report are not yet known, but the saffron party strategists are working overtime to make a difference in the ensuing elections in Meghalaya early next year.

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The saffron party has also enlisted services of independent survey groups to assess people's mood in the state which was once a well known bastion for the Congress and other state-based regional parties.

Sources say the BJP is eyeing "the Congress share of votes as the grand old party has lost ground and credibility".

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Among the four who are likely to shift allegiance, one is from East Khasi Hills. Himalaya Shangpliang is now a Trinamool MLA and represents Mawsynram. Three others are - Ferlin C. Sangma (Selsela), S.G. Esmatur Mominin (Phulbari) and Benedict Sangma (Raksamgre).

All three belong to Chief Minister Conrad Sangma's NPP and are from West Garo Hills. Phulbari Assembly segment is Muslim dominated, but the BJP has a sound base here. In 2018, no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi also campaigned and at the polls, the saffron party nominee Binoy Kumar Ghosh polled 18.38 per cent votes.

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Ghosh finished fourth in the race polling 4,570 votes while NPP nominee Mominin had polled 7,716 votes. In contrast, Congress candidate Abu Taher Mondal was Runner-Up having bagged 6,582 votes while an Independent candidate Mark G. Marak had polled 5.527 votes.

Shangpliang's move to quit Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool is a significant 'achievement' for the BJP poll strategists as they could make penetration in local stalwart and former CM Mukul Sangma's forte.

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"We are eyeing more such leaders and the feedback is positive," a key source claimed.

Sources say in various constituencies and well known NPP-bastions, the feedback for the BJP has been positive. People have developed an anti-incumbency mood against Conrad's party and many say in the absence of Congress prospects, the voters would be automatically drawn towards Prime Minister Modi's party.

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The BJP's developmental agenda is a special attraction for the voters in many underdeveloped areas and people also cite corruption of the NPP leaders.

They cite instances like Raksamgre where BJP polled 11 per cent votes in 2018. The Congress share was 35 per cent and an Independent candidate had walked away with 12 per cent share.

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So, the BJP's own vote-share plus Independent share along with about 50 per cent of the Congress vote share would be substantial gains for the saffron party to make a difference.

Similar statistical calculations are pouring in from several other Garo belt constituencies.

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The BJP poll strategists led by BJP national vice president M. Chuba Ao have already three categories of Assembly seats. In Category A comes about 12-15 seats, which the country's ruling party thinks it can win.

Amid strained relationship between the BJP and NPP, Union Law Minister and BJP lawmaker from neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, Kiren Rijiju recently said, "They (NPP-led regime with BJP as a partner) are doing a good job. But I wish the BJP has more role in the government because more roles of BJP will bring more development and more benefits for the people of Meghalaya".

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The words are well measured but have political significance.

Sources also said that the central leadership of the saffron party has tasked a three-member panel to oversee the election process in detail while the state unit president Ernest Mawrie has been asked to focus on organisational works. The Assam leader is also expected to oversee organisational issues.

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The three-member panel that has been asked to work for elections comprise BJP's newly appointed coordinator for Northeast, Sambit Patra, joint coordinator Rituraj Sinha and the state in-charge Chuba Ao.

Moreover, Mawrie himself may contest from the West Shillong Assembly segment - a typical cosmopolitan constituency which houses 50-60 per cent of non-local voters.

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The sitting MLA is Mohendra Rapsang from the Congress who also was once keen to switch
over to the saffron camp.

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(Nirendra Dev is a New Delhi-based journalist. He is also author of books, 'The Talking Guns: North East India' and 'Modi to Moditva: An Uncensored Truth'. Views are personal)
 

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