Meghalaya Elections: Do-or-Die for NPP, TMC & UDP; BJP Seeks To Avoid 1 Outcome

Here's what's at stake for the five major players in the Meghalaya Assembly elections 2023.

5 min read
Hindi Female

On 27 February, voters in 59 out of Meghalaya's 60 seats will be casting their votes. Polling in one seat – Sohiong in West Khasi Hills – was postponed due to the demise of United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate HDR Lyngdoh.

In this election, the stakes are highest for three parties – the ruling National People's Party led by Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, the Trinamool Congress whose main face is former CM Mukul Sangma, and the UDP headed by Speaker Metbah Lyngdoh.

The BJP and Congress are also in the fray as are a number of smaller regional parties with their own spheres of influence, such as the People's Democratic Front, Hill State People's Democratic Party, and Garo National Council. A number of newer parties like the Voice of the People Party are also trying to make their presence felt.

So, what's at stake for the five major players in this election?


National People's Party

The NPP won 20 seats in the 2018 elections and formed an elaborate post poll coalition with the UDP, PDF, HSPDP, and the BJP.

To the credit of all the parties, they managed to run a government for five years, despite their differences. They are all contesting against each other in this election, but there is possibility of another such coalition being formed if no party wins a majority.

CM Conrad Sangma would ideally like to come as close to the majority mark of 30 as possible based on the NPP's own strength.

But that's easier said than done as the NPP's main influence is in the Garo Hills, where they are facing a tough contest with the TMC. Both Conrad Sangma and TMC's Mukul Sangma are from the Garo Hills.

If the NPP's numbers fall, it would make things more complicated for the party. If that happens and there is also a hung Assembly, the BJP's leverage would increase manifold and Conrad Sangma would be forced to concede more space.

And if the UDP's tally comes close to that of the NPP or more, then the BJP is quite capable of doing what it did in Nagaland and Assam's Bodoland region – swap one regional outfit with the other and hold all the cards in the process.

Even if it's a hung Assembly, Conrad Sangma would ideally want a verdict that forces the BJP to do business with him.


Trinamool Congress

The Trinamool Congress, which had less than one percent votes in the 2018 election, suddenly emerged as the main Opposition in the state after former CM Mukul Sangma left the Congress along with a number of MLAs.

Since then, the TMC has tried to expand itself in the state and try to ensure that it is seen as much more than just a Mukul Sangma show.

The stakes are very high for the TMC from the perspective of their national ambitions. Its experiment in Goa in 2022 didn't yield much as the party failed to win even a single seat.

In the Tripura election, where voting was completed earlier this month, its efforts to become the main Opposition to the BJP may have been thwarted by the Left-Congress alliance.

So it needs to do well in Meghalaya if it has to be taken seriously as a player outside of West Bengal.

The party has been targeting the NPP over issues of alleged corruption besides accusing it of compromising the state's interests in the border negotiations with the BJP government in Assam.

It has also been calling the BJP a party of outsiders, though it too has faced charges of being a Bengali party.

If TMC does well, Meghalaya could be its blueprint of national expansion – by picking strong regional leaders from the Congress and winning over a big part of state units.

If it fails, then its national dream would be all but over.


United Democratic Party

The UDP has had the CM's chair on two occasions, from 1998 to 2001 and from 2008 to 2009. Its base lies in the Khasi Hills, though it did well in the Jaintia Hills as well in the 2018 elections. It has traditionally been weak in the Garo Hills, where the NPP and Congress have been strong.

This election, the UDP has tried to expand in the Garo Hills as well as to present itself as a pan-Meghalaya party on the lines of the NPP. Though 60 percent of NPP's seats came from the Garo Hills, it does have some presence in the Khasi and Jaintia hills as well.

This election is critical for the UDP to prove that it major player which can once again take up the top position in the state. Ideally, the UDP would hope that it does exceedingly well in the Khasi Hills and that the NPP's tally is reduced by the TMC in the Garo Hills.

If it somehow does better than the NPP or at least reduces the gap to single digits, it would keep its hopes alive of getting the CM's chair in the post-poll scenario.

Remember, after the 2018 Nagaland election, the BJP with 12 seats chose to go with the NDPP which had 18 seats and not the NPF with 26 seats. An outcome like this would be ideal for the UDP, to reclaim its past glory in the state.

It is important for the UDP to do well because if it doesn't, there are many smaller and new players waiting to take its place in the highly competitive political space in the Khasi Hills.


Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP, too, is hoping for a 2018 Nagaland-like outcome. The party has mostly been a marginal player in Meghalaya's politics and for the past couple of decades it has won only in and around Shillong.

This time, the party is contesting all the seats and hopes to emerge as a major player in its own might.

There is a sense among many of the regional parties that they need to be on good terms with the Centre – and this sense is giving the BJP influence that is disproportionate to its strength on the ground.

It won't be wrong to say that the BJP will have a stake in power in all outcomes except for one.

If there is a hung Assembly and either the NPP or UDP needs numbers, the BJP could play a key role in bringing together smaller parties, the way it helped achieve the same in 2018.

If the NPP or UDP somehow get a majority on their own, it is still a win for the BJP-led Northeast Democratic Alliance, of which both these parties are part.

The only outcome that doesn't work for the BJP is if the TMC or Congress somehow manage to come close to the majority mark. These are two of the main parties in the state that won't have any truck with the BJP.


Indian National Congress

Once the dominant party in Meghalaya, Congress has become a reduced player following the exit of Mukul Sangma and a number of MLAs to the TMC.

Still, the party has a strong recall value in the state and it has a presence in every pocket.

How many seats this yields remains to be seen.

Strangely, the worst case scenario for the Congress isn't if Conrad Sangma comes back to power, it is if the TMC somehow manages to form the government along with regional parties.

It would then provide a model for disgruntled Congress satraps and incentivise further defections.

The Congress would ideally want to be in a position that irrespective of who wins, the party still has a fighting chance in the two Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2024. It presently has one MP from Meghalaya – Vincent Pala from Shillong.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Nagaland   Meghalaya   Assembly elections 

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