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How INC breached Tura

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TURA, June 5: They say perception in politics is the motor that fuels all activities and the same can be said of Saleng Sangma of the Congress who managed to breach the Tura fortress of Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma-led NPP.
Saleng was the only one who dared to go to the counting centre, perhaps backed by the perception that he was going to win. His confidence was not misplaced, as evidenced by his win. He defeated sitting MP Agatha Sangma of the NPP by 1,55,241 votes.
So, how did the Congress, which was at the outset seen as the third alternative (after NPP and Trinamool Congress) actually pull off the victory?
The answer may lie in many parts of a chapter that will resonate across Garo Hills in the years to come, for Saleng created history by ousting the Sangma family from Tura. It held on to the seat for several decades.
Initially, there were two contenders from the Congress – Saleng and former Deputy Chief Minister Deborah Ch Marak. She eventually made way for Saleng.
The Congress’ strategy in the beginning was to just sit on the fence and wait out for mistakes by the NPP and the TMC. In the initial part of the campaign, there was hardly any conviction in the Congress camp that they would become serious contenders.
Early in his campaign, Saleng himself never resorted to belittling Agatha or her work. He went to people giving himself as the alternative, with the promise that he would be their voice.
Things, however, took a dramatic turn when the BJP, which had 4 ticket aspirants in the seat, decided to opt out and support the NPP instead. A confident NPP, which has 18 MLAs in the region, felt it would win at a canter despite the negatives that would come its way with both parties sailing together. That, however, was not to be.
The Congress was all geared up to play on this “unholy” alliance.
“At many places in rural areas, people asked their MLAs and supporters to stay away as they have made up their mind to vote for the Congress. This was not a vote against the NPP but their ally BJP,” a resident of Phulbari said.
The writing, as many said, was on the wall as Saleng became the face of a movement of people who had nothing to do with the BJP in the Christian-majority state. Videos of the past, in which a senior NPP legislator castigated the BJP and its anti-Christian narratives, began to do the rounds.
According to a sitting NPP legislator, the open support to the BJP damaged the NPP’s image.
“When elections were declared, we were extremely confident that our candidate, Agatha Sangma, would pull through. And then, the NPP and the BJP sharing the dais changed things drastically. While the NPP has always been a part of the NDA, it was seen by many to indirectly receive support. This time, everything was out in the open,” the legislator said on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, the CM asking people to vote for Agatha to vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a campaign in Khasi-Jaintia Hills was the final straw.
Voters from almost all corners of the region began to feel betrayed by the NPP. They thought the best way they can express their anger is through ballots. As the polls drew near, change was palpable. The Congress rallies began to draw larger crowds across Garo Hills but the numbers for the NPP and the TMC started dwindling.
The benefit of the anti-BJP sentiment could have gone to either the Congress or the TMC. The acceptance of the Congress was more among people.
“You could make out the growing support for Saleng when voters, instead of asking for money or favours, actually began to contribute financially during the Congress’ poll campaign. On two occasions, Saleng even broke down, overwhelmed with the support he was getting from all corners,” said TG Momin, a resident of Mendipathar.
At the same time, Congress workers started going after Agatha using social media for her alleged under-performance and absence from the constituency for long periods. These issues were raised also during campaigning.
Further, there was anger among people against the government especially over the smuggling of sugar, Burmese betel nuts among others. With literally no efforts being made by the government to stop these illegal acts, the voters sniffed collusion between the top brass of the government and smugglers.
Lakhs of locals are involved in the betel nut trade and they were impacted greatly by smuggling.
The otherwise outspoken Saleng may never say it but he would have to thank the BJP for handing him the seat. Now, he is seen as the face of the Congress in the state.
When asked on Tuesday on whether his win could actually pave the way for the return of those who left the party, he said he was not worried about those who left on their own accord.
Meanwhile, the NPP finds itself in a Catch 22 situation – on the one hand, it cannot abandon the BJP and while on the other hand, it cannot continue to align with the saffron party given the setback.
“Whether the NPP will be forgiven by the public will be known after the MDC elections which are just about a year away. The bigger challenge will come in 2028 during Assembly elections. Till then, the Congress will try and build itself.

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