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BJP yet to ‘understand dynamics of Northeast’, Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma says of ally

At ThePrint’s Off the Cuff, Sangma, whose National People's Party helms coalition govt including BJP, says his party has made it very clear it wants to maintain its own identity.

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Shillong: Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma Friday indicated that the BJP is unlikely to fill the gap left behind by the decline of the Congress in the Northeast, given that the party is yet to “understand the dynamics” of the region.

“A lot depends on the individuals… If you look at what happened to the BJP in Manipur in the last, 2017, elections, you will see that most of the people who won were actually (from) Congress who (had) joined the BJP,” Sangma told ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta and reporter Angana Chakrabarti on Off The Cuff (OTC).

“The real question is if this is sustainable… If you know a party like BJP is able to adapt and understand the dynamics of Northeast and give that space and that flexibility, then maybe we’ll see that kind of thing happening. But in all likelihood, it may not happen,” he said, adding that in such a case, there will be a huge vacuum that the Congress has left behind in the Northeast.

In the past few years, the Congress’s political influence in the region has seen a steady decline across states like  and the party has failed to wrest power in states such as Assam, Meghalaya and Manipur.

Conrad Sangma’s own National Peoples Party (NPP), which currently holds the top number of seats in the Meghalaya Assembly, is at the helm of a coalition government which includes the BJP, among other partners.

Last month, the allies competed in the bypoll for the Rajabala constituency. Talking about the status of the NPP-BJP alliance, Sangma said, “At the end of the day, the Centre plays an important role, there is no doubt. But local politics also has to be seen.”

“If the numbers don’t come, if you don’t get enough MLAs, if you’re not able to fulfil the desires of the people and develop and work on the governance, nothing matters… We are working with BJP in Meghalaya, in Manipur, and other states. But we have been very clear also that we continue to maintain our identity as a party,” he said.

Also read: Congress’ drive to fight & win missing — Meghalaya ex-CM Mukul Sangma after joining TMC

TMC’s entry into state

In a significant move Wednesday, 12 of 17 Congress MLAs in the state, including former CM Mukul Sangma, announced that they are joining the All India Trinamool Congress.

Mukul Sangma, in an earlier interview, had said that he is confident that his new party will be able to find support in the state, given the people’s “trust” in him and the MLAs.

Conrad Sangma, however, said this development will only work in his party’s favour. “If we analyse it politically, it will only help the party (the NPP) and therefore, we are seeing that there is a complete division within the opposition,” he said.

Asked about the TMC’s chances in the 2023 state elections, the CM said, “I think as a political party, and as a politician, every single move has to be taken seriously. And I don’t underestimate anybody.”

Also read: ‘They’re just going to throw us out’: Fear, anger in Shillong colony as eviction deadline passes

Demand for Inner Line Permit

Conrad Sangma also spoke about the Meghalaya government’s push for Inner Line Permit in the state. In December 2019, the government had passed a resolution to adopt the ILP, a British-era system which is a travel permit that allows Indians to enter a protected area within the country for a limited duration.

The move came at a time when the Centre decided to extend the ILP to Manipur to alleviate the fears of people there regarding the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Meanwhile, several organisations in Meghalaya, including the Khasi Students Union, Federation of Khasi Jaintia and Garo People, among others, have been demanding the implementation of the ILP.

Conrad Sangma justified his government’s decision by saying that the ILP, in his opinion, is not something that is ‘distancing’.

“Tourism is, of course, a very important aspect. And there are huge economic gains for us through tourism, and other activities related to tourism. But there is no harm in looking at one’s own state and the public out here and saying that we are concerned about our own identity, and about our own people,” he said.

According to him, the CAA that was passed by the Modi government had created a lot of insecurity and tension in the region.

“That is why you saw the central government come up with ILPs in Manipur, and other parts of the Northeast. In Meghalaya’s case, they exempted the areas under the Sixth Schedule,” he said, adding, “So keeping in mind the political dynamics and the changes that took place, certain steps had to be taken to build up the confidence of the people.”

Asked why the NPP had voted for the CAA to be passed in Parliament, he said his party had been clear that the bill should not be passed in the original format.

As a result, he said, the government moved to “minimise its effect on the Northeast” and parts of the region were exempted from the purview of the Act.

Also read: Missionary is not a popular word in India. But in the Khasi hills, it holds a different meaning

Sikh-Khasi tensions

About his government’s decision to relocate residents of Shillong’s Them Lew Mawlong area, Sangma said, “We have tried to resolve this issue because there’s been a lot of law and order problems coming up in the past. We decided that we will first get the ownership of the land clarified, so that there is no legal issue in that which we have done already… Also 80-90 families will be shifted to the official quarters of the department.”

In 2018, violent clashes between Khasi and Sikh residents followed a scuffle between a Sikh woman and a tribal resident. At the centre of the violence had been an old land dispute.

The Meghalaya CM claimed that there are “illegal occupants” who are now “trying to change the entire narrative to say that Sikhs are being evacuated”.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: What does a CM’s day in his constituency look like? Following Meghalaya’s Conrad Sangma to Tura

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