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From single-largest party to joining BJP-backed govt: How Congress got annihilated in Meghalaya

After 12 of its 17 Congress MLAs joined Trinamool Congress last November, the party got another shock when 5 remaining legislators pledged support to state's BJP-backed govt.

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Guwahati: Days after its five remaining MLAs in Meghalaya pledged support to the BJP-backed coalition government in the state, the Congress is considering issuing them showcause notices.

The Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) has sent the All India Congress Committee (AICC) a report on the issue. “We are deciding on issuing showcause notices [to the MLAs],” MPCC president Vincent Pala told ThePrint. 

The MPCC reportedly also plans to recommend that these five MLAs be suspended.

Significantly, however, there has been no statement or reaction from the AICC yet on the issue.

On Tuesday, Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leaders Ampareen Lyngdoh, Mohendro Rapsang, Mayralborn Syiem, Kimfa Marbaniang and P.T. Sawkmie submitted a letter to Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, informing him of their decision to join the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government in the state, in “the general interest of its citizens”.

MPCC working president Deborah Marak claimed that the party had been caught unawares. “The party will stay forever, MLAs are going and coming… There has definitely been a setback but the party will groom new leaders,” she told ThePrint.

There has been no official statement on the development from the All India Congress Committee (AICC) so far.

Also Read: TMC has stormed into Meghalaya with a bang. But these 3 factors will decide its fate there

A timeline of the decline

From emerging as the single-largest party after the 2018 assembly polls, to its MLAs joining the ruling MDA, the Congress’s decline in Meghalaya has been governed by many factors. 

After the 2018 polls, the Congress had 21 of the total 60 seats. However, ultimately, Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP), which had won 20 seats, formed a coalition with the United Democratic Party (UDP), the People’s Democratic Front, the BJP, the Hill State People’s Democratic Party, and two Independents. 

The Congress’ number eventually dwindled to 17, after the resignation of an MLA and subsequent bypolls following the deaths of a few of the party’s legislators.

In 2019, the Selsella seat, which was won by Congress’s Clement Marak, was wrested by the NPP in a bypoll necessitated by Marak’s death. In the 2021 bypolls, the party lost two more seats Rajabala and Mawryngkneng.

The major blow came last November, when 12 of the Congress’ 17 MLAs in the state defected to the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC). They were led by two-time chief minister and Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Mukul Sangma. 

‘Scrambling to regroup’

Party sources told ThePrint that over the past two months, there had been efforts within the Meghalaya Congress to regroup, but to no avail.

CLP leader Ampareen Lyngdoh had told local media at the time that the MLAs had reached “a juncture of politics” where they had to make sure they “cover each other’s backs”.  

Lyngdoh told ThePrint that the MLAs had written “letter after letter after letter” to the AICC, but had received no response. 

“We could have gone that way (with the AITC), but we’re not deserters. We’re the ones who should have been guiding the AICC. They should have talked to us long back, when they had lost the byelections… what we have done is a productive thing,” she had said.

Speaking to ThePrint, both Pala and Manish Chattrath, the AICC in-charge for Meghalaya, maintained that they had not received any such letters from the MLAs. 

Chattrath, however, didn’t comment on what his party’s decision regarding the MLAs is likely to be.

Also Read: Many in BJP want Meghalaya Governor Malik out, but will ‘bear with him at least till’ UP polls

Troubles with party leadership

The Congress’ troubles in Meghalaya have much to do with the communication between state leaders and the party leadership. 

Its MLA Martin M. Danggo, whose resignation (he later joined the NPP) not long after the 2018 assembly polls had lost the party its ‘single-largest’ status, had said at the time that he took the decision because CM Conrad Sangma had promised civil subdivision status to his assembly constituency, Ranikor. 

Then, last year, ahead of the bypolls, trouble began brewing between Mukul Sangma and Vincent Pala, after the latter was appointed state party president. Rahul Gandhi had also met the two leaders in a bid to avert a crisis. 

Cut to November 2021, a month after the byelections, when Mukul Sangma announced that he and 11 other MLAs would be joining the AITC. In an earlier interview with ThePrint, Sangma had said that the party had lost its drive to fight and win an electoral battle in the state. 

“We were actually exploring, and trying our best to really find that maybe something could happen within the grand old party itself. But we saw that things are not going to change,” he had said at the time, and added that it was during this process of discussion that he had encountered Prashant Kishor, whose political consultancy Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) has been helping the TMC expand in the northeast and other states.

Meanwhile, Lyngdoh has also expressed exasperation at the state of affairs within the party. “There should have been three review meetings after the byelection. Did the AICC take notice of them? They only noticed when five MLAs took this decision for the good of the party. You [AICC] should have taken a review when you got the beating,” she had told ThePrint Wednesday.

Other factors

Other factors also seem to have been at play behind the MLAs’ decision. 

Lyngdoh said that the MLAs’ decision to join the MDA had been taken to ensure a “channel with the government”. 

“Two of our MLAs were members of the regional committee discussion on the border issue… We wanted as CLP leaders to be privy to the dialogue and discussion,” she had told ThePrint.

“The other issue that has really troubled us is the Covid situation and loss of livelihood, so we wanted to constantly be in touch with the government about what has happened,” she added.

Prior to the MLAs’ move, speculation was also rife about back-door conversations between the Congress and the NPP ahead of the polls. 

Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim told ThePrint that the Congress MLAs were securing their political future. 

“There is a year to go to the assembly elections. If you are in the Opposition, you don’t get money for development schemes it goes in the constituencies of the ruling party,” she added. 

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: ‘Give & take’: How Assam & Meghalaya struck an agreement on a 50-year-old boundary dispute


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