By Tanuj Dhar
Guwahati, Feb 5 (IANS): Barely a few weeks before, the election fight for Meghalaya looked easy for Chief Minister Conrad Sangma's National People's Party (NPP). But the scenario is changing at a fast pace, with the primary opposition party, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, looking to have gained ground in the Hill state and posing a strong challenge to the ruling bastion.
After defeating the BJP in West Bengal in 2021, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leadership was very keen to expand its base outside West Bengal.
Meanwhile, Meghalaya witnessed a dramatic shift in November 2021 when an upset Mukul Sangma decided to leave Congress and switched to TMC with 12 MLAs.
Many then believed that political strategist Prashant Kishore played a role in the induction of Sangma and his followers into Trinamool. Whatever be the fact, this change made Banerjee's party the main opponent in Meghalaya.
Whether the switch would prove beneficial for Mukul Sangma was a question to be asked as the Khasi people see Trinamool as a Bengali-dominated party.
NPP and BJP picked up this issue and labelled allegations that if voted to power, TMC will be remotely controlled from Kolkata. With a large portion of voters belonging to the Christian community, this may dent their chances in the state. Trinamool leaders are trying hard to trash this narrative, with Mukul Sangma leading the way.
In the 60-member state assembly in Meghalaya, 24 seats fall in the Garo Hills region and the rest in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills.
Both Conrad Sangma and Mukul Sangma are fighting in the Garo Hills area. The political pundits of Meghalaya say that the people of the Garo Hills often vote in large numbers for a single party. Trinamool was early to start campaigning heavily in that region.
Prashant Kishore's I-PAC is overseeing the TMC's poll campaign, and a bunch of young boys and girls have been roped in, many of whom have prior experience handling high-voltage Bengal campaigns two years ago.
Mukul Sangma has a strong foothold in Garo Hills and TMC's poll meetings are drawing good crowds there. The Trinamool leaders have claimed that they will outnumber other parties in that region by a good margin.
Conrad Sangma's National People's Party is also pulling out all the stops in Garo Hills. He is contesting election from South Tura constituency, however, his old ally BJP which has engaged in 'ugly' fight with the NPP may cost Chief Minister Sangma a few seats there.
The Congress is almost nowhere in the picture in Garo Hill. Though, the BJP is eyeing big gains in this region, it may end up winning two or three seats there.
On the other hand, all the major parties -- NPP, TMC, BJP, Congress --- and some local parties, such as the UDP and HSPDP, are active in the Khasi-Jaitia hills. Each party has been projected to win some seats here, but probably no one will be able to win big in that region.
In the Khasi-Jaintia Hills, people generally vote looking at the individual candidates, largely ignoring the party symbols; this trend has been followed in the last few elections in the state. If the trend continues, this time too, the party that will win the big in Garo Hills will be the frontrunner for power in Meghalaya.