Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Shillong LS voters torn among powerful NPP, emotive VPP and old war horse Cong


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By Lamphrang Nongspung

SHILLONG, April 16: Three days ahead of polling for the Shillong Parliamentary seat, no political pundit is able to stick his neck out about the possible outcome; such is the complexity and volatility of the mood of the voters this time around.
However, one safe statement to make is that whoever manages to romp home, the margin of victory is unlikely to be large in this three-way contest among the Congress, VPP and NPP.
From all accounts available, the sitting Congress MP, Vincent H Pala cannot be written off, while NPP candidate, Ampareen Lyngdoh should be in contention by sheer virtue of power that her party wields, while VPP candidate, Ricky AJ Syngkon, a NEHU teacher, is basking on a burgeoning wave of Khasi identity upsurge.
The RDA or UDP-HSPDP combine’s Robertjune Kharjahrin is slightly behind in this fierce contest. The other two candidates in the fray are the two independents, Lakhon Kma and Peter Challam.
The meteoric emergence of VPP as the saviour of the local tribes, appear to be eating big time into the regional parties’ vote shares.
But there are also questions whether the RDA is contesting to win since their election campaign lacks the aggressiveness as compared to the NPP, VPP or even the Congress.
The NPP, which started off as the strongest challenger to Pala, appears to have lost ground because of its open BJP connection. Even the diehard NPP supporters privately admit that there has been some kind of negative impact on the NPP prospects after BJP made a tactical withdrawal from the contest for extending support to its ally NPP. BJP calculation is simple: if you can’t win, make sure your enemy is defeated. The million dollar question is: Will NPP win if a big chunk of BJP votes get transferred to NPP? Observers believe that it may not necessarily ensure wresting the seat from the Congress.
Current trends suggest that this NPP-BJP alliance is going to do more harm to its prospects than good. The BJP baiters are going to town against this “unholy nexus”.

While BJP vote bank comprising largely non-tribals are expected to bolster Ampareen Lyngdoh’s fortune, there are reports that non-tribal voters may not be enthusiastic about transferring their votes to an ally. The recent fatal incidents involving non-tribals has given rise to frustration so much so that some non-tribal voters of the town are thinking in terms of a poll boycott or opting for NOTA as a mark of silent protest.
What remains to be seen is what NPP hopes to gain out of its alliance with BJP and whether it will compensate for the loss of tribal votes. This is not easy to decipher given the complex contours of the tribal milieu torn between the emotive appeal of VPP, the redoubtable strength of NPP and old war horse Congress.
There are also questions if all the BJP loyal voters will vote for the NPP. There are undeniable possibilities that they might opt to vote for any tribal party, particularly VPP which has tried to win the non-tribal trust by publicly condemning the recent murder of non-tribal migrants and also assuring the non-tribal minorities a fair deal.
The support of the BJP to the NPP has not gone well with the faithful of many of the Churches especially among the Catholic Church since they have borne the brunt of atrocities let loose by the fringe elements in many parts of the country.

The plus point for the Congress sitting MP is that he has managed to maintain a clean image in his three terms as an MP. Not to forget that the Shillong Parliamentary seat has always been a Congress strong-hold. Moreover, during past 15 years, Pala has assisted many community institutions through MP funds. Congress reckons, this might hold them in good stead.
However, the talking point of this election is the ballistic war of words between the NPP and VPP.
Both the parties are taking on each other in the most aggressive manner, never seen before. There are incidents where it was alleged that the VPP supporters tried to disrupt the election campaign of the NPP in places like Umsning, Mairang, Jaiaw and Rynjah. Allegations and counter allegations are running thick and fast. The number of formal complaints to ECI and police FIRs are a testimony to the high-stakes involved.

The contest in the seven Assembly constituencies of Jaintia Hills region is turning out to be an interesting one. While Pala has thrived on Jaintia identity, this time round, NPP is doing everything possible to sway the voters.
This battle in Jaintia Hills is a prestige issue for the NPP, a question of survival for the Congress and a matter of prosperity for the VPP.
The voting pattern in Jaintia Hills is normally very different from other parts of the state since the electorates do not vote for the same person for Lok Sabha, Assembly and district council elections.
Deputy Chief Minister and NPP national vice president, Sniawbhalang Dhar who is from the area, is going all out to campaign for the party candidate. It is evident that he is at the forefront of all the election rallies in the seven constituencies.
Looking at the previous three elections, the Congress sitting MP, being a “local” himself, has each time managed to garner maximum support from Jaintia Hills. Many Jaintias say that since they don’t have pole position in the state political hierarchy, let the MP be from their tribe. Will such emotions be enough is the critical question?

Meanwhile, the unprecedented voters’ turnout suggests a ground swell of popularity for the VPP. By far, the VPP rallies, particularly in East Khasi hills, have drawn the largest attendance. Whether this is a firm indicator of the mood of the people only results will tell.
It is for everyone to see that the NPP and Congress have not enthused much crowd as compared to the VPP. But it is difficult to predict whether this wave will translate into votes like it happened in Mawlai constituency in the Assembly polls last year.
As far as the five constituencies of Ri-Bhoi, the Congress appears to be strong especially in Umsning and Mawhati since it won the two constituencies in the last MLA election. Nongpoh has always been a Congress seat. It is only this time that it is represented by UDP MLA, Mayralborn Syiem who is a former Congress leader.
As per reports, NPP is holding on to its own in Jirang and Umroi. NPP will be hoping that  since the migration of several leaders of the UDP and Congress in Ri-Bhoi, it will help its cause as much.
It appears that the VPP has managed to make inroad into majority of the constituencies in Ri-Bhoi. The public meetings of the newbie in state politics has managed to draw a huge crowd. However, the question remains whether this wave or apparent popularity of the VPP will be enough to tilt the balance in its favour.
As for the two Assembly constituencies of Eastern West Khasi Hills — Mairang and Mawthadraishan — the fight is primarily among the VPP, UDP, NPP and Congress.
As far as Mawthadraishan is concerned, majority of the leaders of the HSPDP are now supporting the NPP. Not only this, a large section of the UDP leaders is also openly supporting the NPP.
It is interesting to observe that the sitting HSPDP MLA, Shakliar Warjri has not campaigned for the RDA candidate even once, despite being urged by his party. It also seems that even former UDP MLA, H Brolding Nongsiej has left it to his supporters to make their own choice.
When it comes to Mairang, the UDP still holds its pole position since the constituency is being represented by four-time sitting MLA and party chief, Metbah Lyngdoh.
But Congress has faced a major setback in Mairang after its sitting MDC, Batskhem Ryntathiang and several of its leaders joined the NPP. Ryntathiang had lost by a narrow margin in the 2023 Assembly polls. It is still unclear whether the whole Congress supporters will be backing the NPP.
The VPP is also making its presence felt in the two constituencies in Eastern West Khasi Hills. But it will be difficult to assess how much support it is going to secure since being a new party it is yet to have its loyal vote bank unlike the other established parties.
As per reports, in the three constituencies in West Khasi Hills — Nongstoin, Rambrai-Jyrngam and Mawshynrut, the contest is among the NPP, Congress and VPP.
What is interesting to note is that even the HSPDP MLA from Mawshynrut, Methodius Dkhar has not campaigned for the RDA candidate.
The Congress, it appears, is still strong in Nongstoin constituency since it is being represented by the party MLA, Gabriel Wahlang. The NPP is doing well in Rambrai-Jyrngam and Mawshynrut. But even in three constituencies of West Khasi Hills, the dark horse is the VPP.
The influence of this new entity has also been witnessed in these three constituencies.
In the two constituencies in South West Khasi Hills — Mawkyrwat and Ranikor — there will be a close contest among Congress, UDP and NPP.
In Ranikor, it is learnt that former MLA, Martin M Danggo who is currently with the BJP has asked his supporters to back the Congress. Mentionably, a big chunk of his top leaders has joined the Congress.
On the other hand, roping in the sitting Congress MDC from Mawkyrwat, Carness Sohshang has not helped the NPP cause since he could bring only a few leaders with him.
The loyal Congress supporters in Mawkyrwat constituency are still very much intact. It has been informed that the VPP has managed to take away a big slice of the UDP votes in Ranikor. Even in Mawkyrwat, the VPP enjoys the backing of voters owing allegiance to the HSPDP and UDP.
It seems the VPP has not managed to pull any of the Congress supporters to its fold. However, the HSPDP candidate who contested the 2023 Assembly polls from Mawkyrwat has already joined the Congress.
All said and done, this election is poised to be anybody’s game, unless in the last two days there is significant swing in favour of any of these major contenders to take it home.

Lok Sabha Election 2019
Party      Candidate                  Votes        %
INC      Vincent H Pala           4,19,689     53.52
UDP      Jemino Mawthoh       2,67,256     34.08
BJP      Sanbor Shullai             76,683      9.78
KHNAM    THS Bonney             6,580        0.84
IND     Romeo Phira Rani        4,961         0.63
IND     Samuel Hashah            4,601        0.59
NOTA      None of the Above      4,420      0.56
                     Turnout           7,84,279    65.48
Lok Sabha Election 2014
Party      Candidate                  Votes        %
INC      Vincent H Pala             2,09,340     33.76
IND      PBM Basaiawmoit         1,68,961     27.25
UDP      Paul Lyngdoh                1,06,817     17.23
BJP      Shibun Lyngdoh                95,979     15.48
AAP     A Kharshiing                      8,815      1.42
NOTA      None of the Above           10,960    1.77
            Turnout                       6,20,041    63.22

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