Sunday, June 16, 2024

2013 since 2008!


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By Naba Bhattacharjee

The title of this write up may appear stranger than fiction, but is true with regard to developing electoral dynamics in Meghalaya – post delimitation of constituencies. Although the process of delimitation was complete in 2008, the assembly election was conducted maintaining pre- delimitation position. However, it was certain then that next election in 2013 shall be held as per delimited status, since parliamentary elections in 2009 followed the reorganized format. The reality activated heightened political activity, hitherto not experienced after an election, when under normal circumstances a hiatus during next few years is the normal trend. The change in approach was perceptible, when in a function organized in 2008 to felicitate three ministers of the erstwhile MPA government, one of them in his address laced with the inimitable touch of humour declared that it is his good fortune to be invited, in view of the fact that an opportunity has presented itself to start the process of an informal political “taking over” of the locality from his colleague, present on the dais. He spelt out in a lighter vein what was probably weighing heavily in the mind of most legislators – planning and preparing for 2013 in 2008.

Much water has flown down Wah Umkhrah since that evening with various political alignments and re-alignments; except for the truth of delimitation remaining a reality. Areas or parts thereof, which is to-day within a particular constituency, shall no longer form part of the reconstituted constituency while new areas included factoring in optimal harmonization of proximate areas and increase in population. Areas and localities which are “redundant” to-day for a particular constituency and legislators thereon shall be extremely useful to another neighbouring or contiguous constituency. The strategy immediately after last assembly election has been to woo areas and localities merging to form the restructured constituency and give a quiet farewell to the ones going out.

However, engineering of this “incoming” and “outgoing” area is not a simple arithmetic since the pre delimitation status shall continue till 2013 and has to be governed accordingly. The process of handing and taking over can work within limited scope, maneuverability and adaptability. As long as legislators from contiguous constituencies are not a threat to one another, adjustment and smooth transition of the incoming and outgoing areas is possible including cross allocation and investment of development funds. The MLA’s Local Area Development fund can only be utilized within jurisdiction of existing areas of present constituency. This is a typical catch 22 situation. In case of two adjoining constituencies where the respective MLAs are not potential rivals in the next assembly elections, the transition is easy. The problem arises when representatives of adjoining constituencies are faced with the reality of their constituencies or part thereof being merged and are potential contestants from the delimited constituency in 2013.

This bitter truth and undercurrent of acrimony in those constituencies started coming to the fore since 2008. The coming election shall witness contests between two sitting MLAs in many constituencies for the first time, while in few areas the sitting MLA in all probability may not be a contestant. Consequently, one development that is certain is that quite a few sitting MLAs shall not find a place in the next assembly, as only one can emerge victorious or even a proverbial dark horse overtaking both at the finishing line. In the emerging new equation, a few sitting MLAs consider themselves in a stronger position while a select few face the ignominy of being left without a viable constituency to nurture, as their stronghold(s) has been merged to a constituency with a much stronger opposition. The process of migration and zeroing in on fresh pastures remain their only viable alternative to remain afloat.

The inaugural polls in delimited constituencies have the potential of redefining the political scenario in the state where elections in most cases are personality centric rather than party driven dynamics as witnessed in bigger states of the mainland. Manifestos, road maps, blue print and agenda of development of a constituency etc are a mere formality. While the “net worth” of contesting candidates is paramount, all other conditions are superfluous and ancillary. There is hope that 2013 may be different with more than 23% of the total voters exercising their right to franchise for the first time while above 60 % will be in the category of new generation of voters. In the forthcoming political churning, upheavals are expected to finally decide the new political contours of Meghalaya. The number of voters in constituencies has increased substantially and a level of uniformity has been achieved, which was one of the primary objectives of delimitation.

The battle lines are being drawn with clinical precision. And manifestation of individual strategy is best noticed during a festival when optimal mileage can be derived. The recent Durga Puja festival was one such occasion to put in practice different strategies to woo the electorate, particularly in Shillong and other towns/constituencies where the festival is observed. The same will be experienced in forth coming religious and other festivals. Next year organizers expect a “bumper” festival – the last before the elections. Next year could well be the “Year of festivals” in Meghalaya before the political festivities commence in all probability from early 2013.

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