NCP, Independents make it tough for Congress in Meghalaya

February 24th, 2008 - 8:06 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Syed Zarir Hussain
Shillong, Feb 24 (IANS) The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Independent candidates have emerged as major challengers to the Congress in Meghalaya, which goes to the polls March 3. Former Lok Sabha speaker P.A. Sangma leads the NCP.

The Congress, which headed the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) coalition, witnessed dissent after veteran party leader D.D. Lapang was reinstated as chief minister, replacing party colleague J. D. Rymbai last March. Rymbai had occupied the hot seat vacated by Lapang following a revolt by party lawmakers in June 2006.

A total of 331 candidates, including six former chief ministers, are in fray for the single-phase elections in the hill State for the 60-member state assembly.

More than 1.2 million voters are to exercise their franchise that will determine the fate of six former chief ministers - D.D. Lapang, Purno A. Sangma, Salseng C. Marak, E.K. Mawlong, F.A. Khonglam and J.D. Rymbai.

“There were certain shortcomings that affected governance here,” Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said while admitting to instability in the Congress-ruled state.

In the Meghalaya assembly, the Congress had 29 legislators and was backed by 14 other regional party lawmakers in running the MDA government since the last elections in 2003.

Political instability is the hallmark in Meghalaya - the state has seen six different governments with varied combinations of political parties, resulting in four chief ministers in a span of five years between 1998 and the last assembly elections in 2003.

On just two occasions in the past has a chief minister been able to complete his ministry’s full five-year term since Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972.

Das Munshi said frequent change of leadership of the Congress-led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance government was a ’shortcoming’, but he promised the people stability, if voted to power.

The NCP, which is contesting 50 seats, got a big boost after party’s national general secretary P.A. Sangma announced leaving ‘national politics’ and promising to work for his home state.

“Governance has been terribly poor in Meghalaya. The state needs me and I will show everyone how we can change Meghalaya’s profile,” Sangma told IANS.

NCP President and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar returned to Delhi after a two-day campaign tour.

“We shall form the next government,” Sangma said. But, the 70 independent candidates, who are in the fray, could well play the role of king makers in the event of a hung Assembly, chances of which are likely.

Militancy is not a very big issue in the state this time, but the rebel Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC) called a 12-hour state-wide general strike on Saturday in protest against the visit of Congress president Sonia Gandhi for electioneering in Meghalaya’s Garo Hills.

The strike did not evoke much response and the Congress president did make a firm commitment of her party ushering in progress and prosperity.

“Congress is your partner for prosperity and progress. Elect us and we shall provide you a stable government and a transparent administration,” Gandhi said.

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