The Trinamool Congress, emboldened by its 2021 victory against the saffron force in West Bengal, is spreading its wings in other states, including those in the North East. In its latest expansion plan was Meghalaya where the West Bengal-based party poached 12 MLAs of the Congress, including former chief minister Mukul Sangma.
The exodus of the 12 senior Congress members immediately after the party’s bypoll debacle in three constituencies came as a shock and goes without mentioning that it has shaken the national party to the core, reducing it to a fledgling party from the chief opposition in the state.
Whether the grand old party can resurrect in the state will be interesting to watch, especially when the political arena in the state before the 2023 general elections is crowded with new entrants, like the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Voice of People’s Party floated by Ardent Basaiawmoit. But before that, it will be important to see how the Trinamool Congress can make a difference or what it can gain in the northeastern state.
Mamata Banerjee, the TMC chief and West Bengal chief minister who is lovingly referred to as didi (elder sister), has a dream to go beyond the Bengal borders and help her party bloom in every corner of the country. From Goa, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh in the mainland to Assam and Tripura in the North East, didi’s fervent followers are taking the leader’s message to consolidate the opposition in the country, undoubtedly sans the Congress.
Banerjee’s charisma has overshadowed the grandeur of the Gandhis and she wields a certain authority that is almost hypnotic on the mass. In her own land, she knows how the game is played. But will that be true in other parts of the country, particularly in Meghalaya?
TMC is a Bengali-majority party with its power centre in West Bengal. So, how does the party plan to tackle the anti-fBengali, or broadly anti-non-tribal, sentiment in Meghalaya? Even if it targets non-tribal votes, its chances of making a mark are bleak.
All the 12 MLAs who have joined the Trinamool Congress are from Khasi and Garo communities. How much they can connect with the problems and grievances of the Bengali community in particular and the non-tribals in general is doubtful. TMC can gain some traction in the plains of Garo Hills where there is a mixed population, but beyond that it has little relevance.
Though among the new entrants, there are Khasi and Garo leaders who speak Bengali and have a strong connect with the community, it will not be enough to garner votes.
The BJP, which has only two MLAs in Meghalaya, is already focused on the non-tribal vote and has already positioned itself on the top in the power equation in the North East. Its anti-Muslim rhetoric has resounded well among the non-tribal population in the region. On the other hand, Banerjee’s proximity to the Muslim community in West Bengal is not unknown and this may boomerang on TMC in Meghalaya.
If the civic polls in Tripura were any indication, then TMC is yet to be accepted in the North East.
Local issues & concerns
There are some issues specific to Meghalaya which become strong political agenda before every election. Of those are the inner line permit and illegal coal mining. About the former, the less TMC talks about the better. Even if the party rakes up the citizenship act, it cannot skirt the ILP demand.
On the latter issue, it can barely corner the current government on illegal coal mining and transportation as one of its MLAs, Dikanchi D Shira, is a coal mine owner.
However, there are chances that the Trinamool Congress will split BJP and NPP votes in the non-tribal dominated areas, reducing the margin of the national party.
The general sentiment among the electorate is confusion. A 45-year-old Congress supporter told Sunday Monitor that he has been voting for the grand old party since the time he started voting. “I voted for Bah Charles (Charles Pyngrope, the current TMC president of Meghalaya) last time but now I am not sure who to choose,” he sounded concerned.
Several voters and supporters of the Congress reiterated the same concern.
There is another concern with the TMC entering the political equation of Meghalaya. Unlike elections in the mainland, polls in Meghalaya are peaceful. But going by the past poll experience in West Bengal and TMC’s role in violence, there always remains an apprehension about chaos this election.
So far, the negatives of TMC’s position in the 2023 elections are more than its positives. The 12 MLAs have already lost faith of many voters and will only have money power to make an impression. They will definitely need some of didi’s charm make magic in 2023.