Local right wing vs. National right wing
By Bhogtoram Mawroh
The entire fracas that took place in the Meghalaya Legislative Assembly over the Governor’s decision to give his remarks in Hindi is indicative of the fact that regionalism, in this case exemplified by Khasi sub-nationalism, is not going away anytime soon. While the shouting of slogans against the Governor was not desirable, the walkout by the four VPP (Voice of Peoples’ Party) MLAs led by Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit was not difficult to predict. There are two main ideologies that define the VPP, their claim to clean politics and a pro-jaidbynriew stand on issues. If they had not reacted to the action of the Governor it would have put a dent on the latter raising doubt in the minds of a growing number of Khasi voters if they indeed can defend the right of the indigenous Khasi people against that of a competing Hindutva ideology being propagated by the BJP.
Notwithstanding the admonishment by the Chief Minister the scene created by VPP in the Assembly will most probably help them in their quest to win more electoral seats in the future. This is exactly what the BJP has done in the other parts of the country. The most recent example was seen in Uttar Pradesh when during its last Assembly elections the outgoing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath stated that the elections in the state will be ‘80 per cent versus 20 per cent’ in a veiled reference to the percentage of the Muslim population in the country. Predictably BJP won the elections and Yogi Adityanath became the Chief Minister once again. However, I don’t think VPP is going to form the government anytime soon. The elections in the State have just got over and five years is a very long time for people to find out if promises made during elections will actually be delivered. Since VPP claims that they will practise clean politics they, more than others, will have to work extra hard to show that they have actually brought tangible changes on the ground especially in their own constituencies. If not they will be just another flash in the pan, not unlike many others from the past and many who will appear in the future as well.
Coming back to the controversy regarding the Governor’s speech in Hindi, many would remember that something similar had happened in the past as well. In 2018, the then Meghalaya Governor Ganga Prasad had created an uproar when he did the same thing during the first day of the Budget session. That time it was Congress legislator from East Shillong, Ampareen Lyngdoh who had staged a walkout soon after the governor began his address. This time she is in the ruling party and did no such thing. But she did voice her displeasure at the repeat of the incident in her interaction with the press. Then just before the elections there was the visit of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) leader Mohan Bhagwat who declared that everyone in Meghalaya is a Hindu. And before that there was the furore over the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 whose aim was to legalize illegal immigration on the basis of religion. This was done notwithstanding the fact that the Act harboured great dangers to the indigenous peoples of North East including Meghalaya. But perhaps that was the actual intention of the Act. Only time will tell. But apart from the ones mentioned above there were some subtle but important decisions made by the BJP during the recently concluded Assembly elections to impress their ideology on the populace of Meghalaya.
After BJP was unable to gain any seats during the recently concluded election it was revealed that the BJP central leadership had their choice of candidate in three constituencies while in the remaining 57 seats the state unit was given a free hand. One of the candidates chosen by the central leadership was former IPS officer Mariahom Kharkrang to contest from North Shillong. While the party can argue that they chose him to show their commitment to the issue of law and order the choice of Kharkrang who was the Superintendent of Police, East Khasi Hills during the heydays of HNLC (Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council) was very telling. If he had won they would have (most probably unofficially) claimed his victory as the rejection of the Khasi sub-nationalism by the local populace. It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow started from the Central Library and ended in Police Bazar/Khyndailad which falls under North Shillong. BJP knew very well that they would not have enough seats to form the government on their own but in terms of messaging, a win in North Shillong would have been very significant. The local right wing was also very much aware of that.
During the initial rounds of counting Kharkrang did very well. He got more than 2000 votes in the first round while Adelbert Nongrum, VPP’s candidate got less than 500 votes. The same thing happened in the second round as well. The presenters of a local YouTube channel which was covering the election became very distraught at the initial results. Both of the presenters expressed concern at the prospects of a BJP victory on the aspirations of the politics of jaibynriew. While they were quite impartial in their coverage of results from the other constituencies they were clearly invested in BJP not winning in North Shillong. To their relief Adelbert replicated Kharkrang’s performance from the first two rounds by getting more than 4000 votes in the remaining two rounds to achieve a final tally of 5333 votes ultimately winning by less than a thousand votes. To the disappointment of the BJP, the Khasi votes consolidated and did not break as much as BJP had hoped. In this case, the local right wing was able to overcome the national right wing.
However it is not just the VPP which is invested in a pro-jaidbynriew politics. While the Chief Minister Conrad Sangma may have tried to defend the speech of the Governor in Hindi he has on occasions shown himself to be aware of his indigenous identity especially of professing a faith considered by Hindutva supporters as being alien to the sub-continent. The prayer service he held after winning elections was not the first one. When he formed the government for the first time in 2018 he had organized a similar prayer meeting. He had also organized ‘Meghalaya Prays’ in 2020 where he stated, “Despite the catastrophe that surrounds us as we fight Covid-19, that has endangered human life and disrupted global economy, we draw inspiration from the life of Jesus Christ — His agony on the Cross and the power of his Resurrection — which is our living hope. This crisis has brought nations together irrespective of races, creed and class to unite in breaking the transmission chain by doing our part”. There’s no mistaking the importance of his religious identity of which Conrad Sangma has been quite explicit. When the Indian security forces killed innocent Naga civilians in Oting (Mon district, Nagaland) he was the first head of state from the North East to demand the repeal of the draconian AFSPA (Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act). While his party voted for the CAA in the Indian parliament he was able to get an exemption for the Sixth Schedule Areas of Meghalaya from the implementation of the Act. So, he would argue that although he had to make decisions because of political compulsions he did not sell out the indigenous peoples of the State. Indeed, recently his party expressed its reservations against the proposed Uniform Civil Code of the BJP. But if the recent events that transpired in the Assembly are any indication, the balancing act that Conrad Sangma performs is going to come under increasing pressure in the upcoming future.
Make no mistake, the Governor’s speech in Hindi was not an accident but a part of the attempt by the national right wing, represented by the BJP, to push its agenda of a ‘one nation one language, one etc., etc.’. The hard local right wing led by VPP has replied to it very strongly and for the sake of their own political relevance they will have to continue doing so in the future as well. The soft right wing represented by Conrad Sangma has the difficult task of keeping both happy as he needs them or the constituency they represent for his own political ambitions. All of this means that Meghalaya’s political landscape is poised to become very interesting in the upcoming days.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not reflect in any way his affiliation to any organization or institution)
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