The final results of the Meghalaya Assembly elections held no surprises but one. And that is the failure of the Trinamool Congress to come anywhere near its grand dream to form the government in the picturesque hill state.
The Trinamool, which had spent huge sums of money and deployed all its front-ranking leaders from Bengal to campaign extensively in Meghalaya, ultimately ended up with just five seats and a vote share of 13.78 per cent.
Of the five seats it bagged, four are from the Garo Hills and just one — Nongthymmai — from the Khasi Hills.
It can be said with certainty that all the five candidates won on their own steam, and not because of any help — except monetary— they received from the parent Bengal unit of their party.
The Trinamool candidates won three of the five seats by narrow margins, two of them by just 10 and 18 votes.
Even Mukul Sangma, the Trinamool’s chief ministerial candidate, won by just 372 votes.
His victory margin in 2018, when he contested on a Congress ticket, was 1,830 votes.
The Trinamool candidate in the Dadenggre Assembly seat in West Garo Hills, Rupa Marak, could win the seat by just 18 votes.
In the Rajabala Assembly seat, also in West Garo Hills, the Trinamool’s Mizanur Rahman Kazi defeated his NPP rival by just 10 votes.
A detailed analysis of the results show that had the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) remained intact and the MDA partners — the National People's Party (NPP), the United Democratic Party (UDP), the BJP and the Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP) — fought the polls unitedly on a seat-sharing basis, the Trinamool would not have won a single seat in the state.
In fact, had the MDA partners arrived at a seat-sharing agreement, the NPP-UDP-BJP-HSPDP combine would have won at least 10 more seats and their combined tally would have been 51 instead of the 41 now.
The MDA would have swept the assembly elections and almost all the Trinamool candidates would have even lost their security deposits. But that’s another story.
The Trinamool’s entry into the political stage in Meghalaya has been sudden.
It had no presence and organisation — not even an office — in the state till November 2021 when Mukul Sangma, who had served as the Congress chief minister of the state for one and half terms, led a group of 11 other Congress MLAs from the party to the Trinamool.
Sangma had developed deep differences with the state Congress chief Vincent Pala and, feeling completely sidelined in the party, defected to the Trinamool.
Pala, incidentally, lost his election from Sutnga-Saipung constituency to the NPP candidate by 1,828 votes.
Sangma had little choice other than joining the Trinamool.
He could not have joined the BJP which, anyway, would not have accepted him.
And having served as the Congress chief minister for nearly eight years (from April 2010 to March 2018), he could not have joined a regional party.
The Trinamool was the only party willing to take him in. His entry into the Trinamool was handled by Prashant Kishor, who Sangma knew well.
Sangma’s entry into the Trinamool along with the other eleven 11 legislators suited both Sangma and the Trinamool.
The Trinamool provided Sangma with a viable political platform and in return, Sangma gave the Trinamool a foothold in Meghalaya.
Mamata Banerjee had always harboured ambitions of playing a major role in the national political stage and for that to happen, she knew that she would have to take her party beyond Bengal.
She knew that as the head of a provincial party without a presence in at least a few states, she stood no chance of gaining acceptance outside Bengal.
That’s why Banerjee jumped at the chance of inducting Mukul Sangma into her party. She had really hoped that Sangma would deliver Meghalaya to her.
That’s why she campaigned quite vigorously in Meghalaya along with her nephew and heir apparent Abhishek Banerjee.
She deployed top leaders of her party to Meghalaya. And she poured in humongous sums of money to fund her party’s aggressive 360-degree campaign in the state.
Thanks to the massive spend by the Trinamool, Meghalaya for the first time saw large election rallies, big roadshows and mega feasts in villages and towns this time.
The Trinamool issued full front-page advertisements in local newspapers and bought a lot of airtime in local TV channels, and plastered the entire state with its posters, banners and even giant cutouts of its leaders.
The Trinamool also engaged Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) to conduct surveys, reach out to voters and design its campaigns at the micro level.
Based on feedback from I-PAC, it announced a slew of doles to win over voters.
The doles included cash handouts to women of every household, to the unemployed, to farmers, taxi drivers and daily wage earners, and freebies to students and youth.
The Trinamool’s spirited campaigning, especially by its top leaders, and the money it spent in electioneering created a buzz in the media and political circles about the party and its prospects.
And taken up by that buzz, the Trinamool started projecting itself as the winner which would form the next government in the state.
Trinamool leaders themselves got carried away by the narrative that they had created about their party’s electoral prospects.
But most political analysts knew that the Trinamool’s hopes of forming the government in the state were unrealistic and the party would win, at best, a dozen-odd seats, most of them from the Garo Hills.
Even opinion and exit polls, which the Trinamool leaders disdainfully dismissed, predicted that the Trinamool would win between 10 to 12 seats.
But ultimately, it won just five, three of them narrowly.
Banerjee has also seen her ambitions to establish a base in Tripura dashed to the ground.
She had faced similar political blows in Manipur in the past when all MLAs who won on Trinamool tickets defected to other parties soon after the elections.
It now remains to be seen if she abandons her dreams of taking her party beyond the boundaries of Bengal or continues to pursue it at great cost to her party.
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