The Meghalaya defection and the epitaph for Congress

By Albert Thyrniang

The Roman Empire lasted for 1000 years but it ended with the fall of Rome in 476 BC. It continued in the East in the form of the Byzantine Empire for another millennium but Constantinople fell in 1453, bringing down the curtains on one of the most influential civilisations. The Indian sub-continent was a land of empires – from the Maurya Empire to the Maratha Empire – but all is history now. The 500 year British Empire too, on whose territory it is said ‘the sun never sets,’ finally crumbled in the late 1960s. After each end life went on.
These days predictions are made of the end of the Indian National Congress (INC). Many are seeing the beginning of the end of the 1885 founded ‘nationalist movement’. No matter that it was Mahatma Gandhi’s which got Independence for India. It does not matter that it is a 136 year old party that pulled down the mighty British Empire. Little can be done for this once Indian born movement which powerfully influenced other anti-colonial nationalist movements against the British Crown. It is weakening and nearing its end.
The BJP is the main architect of the ‘downfall’ of the Grand Old Party. With the double heavy defeats in 2014 and 2019 general elections rebounding looks more and more unlikely. In states too it has been outsmarted by the saffron party time and again. The main cause is the unsettled central leadership and the inability to look beyond the Gandhi family. The present leadership are is no match to the firebrand BJP cohort of Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and others. Facing a bleak future, the exodus from the Congress is now a regular affair.
Now it is the turn of All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) to catch Rahul Gandhi and others napping in Meghalaya. The Trinamool and its ambitious supremo, Mamata Banerjee, engineered a shocking midnight coup, courtesy her election strategist Prashant Kishor by stealing 12 Congress MLAs right under the nose of the newly elected state president, Vincent Pala. Led by the disgruntled and disillusioned former chief minister, Mukul Sangma the legislators controversially jumped into the Mamata bandwagon blaming the Congress of not being able to challenge the BJP’s sectarian ideology while giving a thumbs up to their new leader to give Modi a run for his money nationally.
Mukul and company have credited Kishor for presenting a clear plan of how the BJP would be defeated by ‘Didi’. They have sung praises of how concerned he is at the current state of affairs in the country where the BJP government is trampling down on religious rights and that Mamata alone is capable of restoring the trust of all faiths. With due respect, Kishor is only an employee of the TMC. He speaks for his employer and does not necessarily have ideological convictions. For the information of the defectors it was Kishor who strategized and helped Modi, then Gujarat chief minister get re-elected for the third time in the Assembly Elections in 2012. Again it was his organisation Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG) which conceptualised the aggressive campaigns in the 2014 general election to enable the Modi-led (BJP) to win an absolute majority. So it is Kishor too who has made Modi. Now he portrays himself as anti-Modi and positions to undo the brand he himself has created. Besides the BJP the political tactician has worked also for APP, YSRCP, DMK, Janata Dal (United) and more importantly the Congress. He is professionally under contract with TMC till the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. After 2024 he might work for the Congress. Will the ‘Judases’ return? If political allegiances follow strategists God save this country!
The defeat of the Congress particularly in Mawryngkneng and Rajabala has now fallen in place. The main reason was sabotage by the rebels. Reportedly Charles Pyngrope did not campaign enough. The same was with Mukul Sangma in Rajabala. Clandestine support was allegedly for the UDP candidate. The plan to join the TMC was probably already more or less decided. The number 12 was already in their mind. Had the Congress won the two seats the fresh winners would not have joined their camp. Their design would then be thwarted. So, the loss was likely intentional. This is blatant dishonesty. While to the gullible public the party candidates were official but secretly they were otherwise.
The State Congress leadership was surprised that Pyngrope joined the rebel camp. The reason for his alleged sabotage was because if Congress takes the seat in 2023 the same person will get the party ticket. He or the person of his choice might not be the party candidate. Highlander Kharmalki would have consolidated his position. Therefore, the former Speaker might have planned for Kharmalki’s loss as it would be easier for him to convince the Congress to hand over the party ticket to him even if he remains in the party. Now that he is in the TMC, he can choose either of the two while facilitating another person in the other constituency. In Nongthymmai there is also a sizeable Bengali population.
More baffling is the decision of George Lyngdoh from Umroi. In what way will Mamata or Mukul help him to get re-elected from his constituency? Now he has to depend entirely on his own. As for Himalaya Shangpliang, he has been close to the former chief minister from his days as MCS officer. Even then is the TMC supremo and his former boss so valuable that they will ensure his victory from Mawsynram in 2023? To entertain the thought of becoming champions of secularism in the country even before being certain of winning one’s own seat is putting the card before the horse. It is inexplicable except, as hinted by reports, that the TMC has promised to fund their elections generously which the Congress cannot as its coffers have dried up. As for Shitlang Pale it is natural he moves to another party. The lone Congress MLA from Jaintia Hills suspects Vincent Pala will contest from Sutnga Saipung in 2023 in his bid to be the next chief minister.
That all the seven MLAs from Garo Hills are loyal to the ‘undisputed’ leader is logical. Though Mukul built the party ‘brick by brick’ he has made politics a family business. The eight breakaway legislators include himself, his wife, his brother and daughter. If Mukul had no MLA from his family would he have managed to contrive the split? The other four were given tickets through his influence. This writer, during his sojourn in Garo Hills, met several former Congress workers who claim they were summarily side-lined by the leader. Mukul built a party of loyalists in the western part of the state.
For the first time in many years the Congress has no MLA from Garo Hills. Asked to sum up the mood after the sensational defection a political activist from Tura simply replied, ‘confused’. Another terms it ‘a compelling situation’ blaming both the INC central leadership and Mukul himself for the parting of ways. A candidate in the last election reveals there is a mixed response from the public. Another MLA hopeful estimates that 60 per cent of workers will remain with the Congress. The general opinion is that both the ‘cousins’ will have a challenging time ahead.
The Congress has filed a complaint with the Speaker questioning the validity of the so called ‘merger’. There was no discussion at any level in the party for any merger proposal. Subsequently there was no voting arming the ‘two thirds’ to proceed with the merger with the TMC. This is a clear case of defection and not a merger and hence the Speaker has to disqualify the 12 deserters as claimed by Bindo Lanong, the former Assembly Speaker. The intention of the Tenth Schedule is to root out defection and its letter and spirit must be upheld.
The constitutional and legal legitimacy aside, the 12 ‘honourable’ members have placed the whole state in a strange situation. How can the TMC with zero presence become the principal opposition party overnight? It is unfair to the state. Such a political adventure should never have arisen.
Much is the TMC hype these days. From Sushmita Dev to Kirti Azad to Ashok Tanwar avan Varma to Subramanian Swamy to Babul to Luizinho Faleiro, all have hugged the TMC. To say that this migration, none with mass following, would make Mamata the chief opposition leader pan India is living in a fools’ paradise. The recent results of municipality elections in Tripura are a reality check. Except for West Bengal and probably Meghalaya, the TMC will not make inroads in any other state.
Anyway, the reason for peoples’ exodus from the Congress to the TMC and other parties lies with the former. It no longer has the muscle to fight the BJP juggernaut, their narrow ideology and dangerous policies. The grand old party is in the process of running its course. The Congress era has ended. Only the influence of its ideals, particularly secularism and pluralism on society, is cherished. If the Congress fails, the space is reallocated to others. No one is indispensable in the Congress. Neither is the Congress for India!

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