Final week, on the day the Election Fee introduced the dates of Meghalaya polls, 5 MLAs from completely different events, together with a minister, resigned from the state Meeting to affix the small regional outfit United Democratic Occasion (UDP).
In an election that’s largely seen as a contest between Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s Nationwide Individuals’s Occasion (NPP) and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), these MLAs leaping ship to the UDP could appear to be a curious improvement.
Nonetheless, forward of the February 27 polls, the various regional events that dot the political panorama of Meghalaya are ramping up their marketing campaign. And the UDP — which is at present a constituent of the NPP-led coalition authorities in Meghalaya, however will go solo this February — is among the most vocal amongst them.
Final week, one of many defecting MLAs, Renikton Lyngdoh Tongkhar, who was the Public Well being Engineering Minister, instructed reporters that the UDP will “emerge as a serious regional pressure within the upcoming Meeting polls”. He emphasised the necessity for a “regional” get together combating for the aspirations of jaitbynriew (Khasi-Jaintia tribes) to helm Meghalaya.
UDP: Offshoot of the Meghalaya statehood motion
Shaped in 1997, the UDP is an offshoot of the primary regional get together of the state, the All Occasion Hill Leaders’ Convention (APHLC), which was born out of the Meghalaya statehood motion. Since then, the UDP has loved two stints in energy, though each had been short-lived.
The UDP first got here to energy in its maiden elections in 1998, when it bagged 20 seats out of 60, with Congress profitable 24. Based mostly on a post-poll power-sharing settlement with the Congress, UDP founder EK Mawlong turned Meghalaya’s chief minister in 2000. Nonetheless, his tenure was short-lived. He needed to step down in 2001, after getting embroiled in an argument relating to the reconstruction of the Meghalaya Home in Kolkata. In 2008, as a part of the ruling Meghalaya Progressive Alliance coalition together with the Nationalist Congress Occasion (NCP), UDP president Dr Donkupar Roy was named chief minister, although this authorities too, collapsed quickly after.
Observers say the UDP was widespread at one level, however has misplaced its grip now, and normally finally ends up as kingmakers in a state identified to return fractured mandates. In 2018, the get together received six seats however went on to change into an ally within the NPP-led ruling authorities. Forward of the 2023 elections, although, the allies have been lashing out at one another.
This election, the UDP has not signed a pre-poll alliance with any get together, with its leaders speaking of a resurgence and claiming they may win 30 seats. “The Congress is disintegrating, the TMC is new and there’s anti-incumbency in opposition to the NPP,” stated the get together’s normal secretary Jemino Mawthoh. “This has led to an area for events just like the UDP, which is specializing in aspirations of the native folks.”
Renikton Tonghkar, the minister who himself just lately joined the UDP, stated the get together was going to face the elections “with 12 incumbent MLAs” — greater than the TMC and the Congress. “We’re on a stronger footing this 12 months,” he claimed. “It is time Meghalaya obtained a regional get together at its helm — to concentrate on aspirations of native folks. Moreover, since we’re impartial, we don’t want to attend for the approval of the excessive command in Delhi to decide associated to the state,” he stated.
Critics have identified that the UDP’s marketing campaign has centered on regional aspirations on the expense of raking up the Khasi-Garo divide, by publicly pushing for a non-Garo chief minister. In Meghalaya, whereas Khasis are believed to be essentially the most highly effective group, political energy has largely remained within the arms of Garo politicians, a few of the most well-known of whom are from the Garo tribe, ranging from former chief minister Williamson Sangma to former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma, who additionally held the highest workplace. For the final 13 years, the state has had a Garo chief minister – first Mukul Sangma, and at present Conrad Sangma.
The UDP normal secretary performed down the allegation. “UDP represents the pursuits of all folks of the state… We aren’t communal, now we have leaders within the Garo Hills too,” Mawthoh stated, “All we had stated was that for a change there could possibly be a Khasi face too. However this doesn’t imply now we have something in opposition to a Garo CM. The CM ought to be an in a position chief from any a part of the state.”