Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Countdown to 2013: Prospect of regional parties in the state

The clock is ticking and in about 22 months or less than two years time, the state will go to poll again and in some way the next election will be a level playing field in the sense it will be fought on the new reorganized constituencies. Hence even if the various parties are yet to come up with their plan and strategy for the ensuing election, candidates have already done several rounds of visits to the new area to acclimatize themselves with their new constituencies. Having said that, one was reminded of the report that the two regional parties the UDP and the KHNAM already enter into negotiation to at least have a pre-poll alliance if not a merger in the near future. It seems like the regional parties already have their eye on the election and they are preparing for 2013.

Last year the oldest vernacular daily U Nongsain Hima brought out a special issue in commemoration of the newspaper golden jubilee celebration. It was an honour to be asked by the Editorial board of the paper to contribute an article on the subject ‘Is there a future for the regional parties in the state?’ or if I may rephrase the question as ‘do the regional parties in Meghalaya have any future?’ My first point was the fact that the state of Meghalaya was created to fulfill the regional aspiration of the Khasi, the Pnars and the Garos; the desire of the communities to protect their rights, their unique customs and traditions and their expectation to be able to govern themselves according to their hope, dreams and aspiration. Unfortunately somewhere down the line after the goal of having the state created out of then composite state of Assam was achieved, like lion in the pride, the leaders spend their time fighting for the spoilt. That was the beginning of the imminent fall of the all powerful All Party Hills Leader’s Conference (APHLC). Some of the leaders went to join the Congress, while some alpha mail started to created space for themselves and formed new regional parties namely the People’s Demand Implementation Council (PDIC) and Hills State Democratic Party (HSPDP) and still some retain the APHLC (which the leaders of the hill state movement believed they had buried in Mendipahar) albeit in the shadow of its former self. That was the history of the origin of the regional party in the state in a nutshell; but after the unfortunate incidents of leaders tearing apart the colossal hills state movement, there were continued efforts to regroup the fractioned regional parties. One such incident was the three flags alliance (lai lama) a movement to unite the regional parties which culminated to the formation of the new party, the Hills People Union (HPU). Unfortunately the effort became futile because leader like H.S. Lyngdoh of the HSPDP refuse to join in the movement. Then the United Democratic Party (UDP) is again the latest outcome of that effort to unite the regional parties but again this move was unsuccessful not only the HSPDP remain adamant but another faction came out to light in the name of the Meghalaya Democratic Party (MDP).

It is ironic that a United Regional Party is the only answer to the Congress challenge in the state. If the regional parties remain divided; it will only make the Congress’ candidates chances of winning the next election much easier. Since the early history of the state, Congress party is viewed by the people as ‘ka parti dkhar’ even today there is still a large anti-Congress section in the population of the state. Hence a disunited regional party only splits the regional party vote bank and they will also not be able to capitalize on the anti-incumbency factor. Then there is another factor at play here, the National Congress Party (NCP), although the NCP is yet to make it presence in the Khasi, Jaintia and Ri Bhoi District, its candidate can play a spoil sport to either the Congress candidate or the regional party candidate. The only way regional parties can match to the might of the Congress is if they are able to have a pre-poll alliance or better still to unite and the reported move between the KHNAM and UDP is a step in the right direction.

The other argument is UDP being part of the government alliance is going to do more harm than good to the party; the party will share the wrath of the voter and like the Congress it will also be affect by the anti-incumbency factor. By being part of the alliance with a national party which has its own national agenda without discrimination between fellow Indians, the party therefore has to compromise its principle to protect the interest of the indigenous people of the state in the altar of coalition politics. But the factor that will hurt the party the most or rather it should embarrass the party workers is the role the party play in the coalition. In the never ending musical chair game played by the Congress MLA, UDP is playing a second fiddle to the Congress or rather it has become passive participant in the coalition. In the present dispensation the UDP has become like an ever-prepared, always-willing-bride waiting for whoever grooms the Congress bring forth from Delhi and any groom will be fine as long as the party is accommodated in the coalition.

The message the UDP leadership gave by act of commission and omission is also confusing to say the least, at one point of time the leadership were vehemently against the transfer of land to the companies particularly the cement companies and then the same leader gave a statement in the press that he is supporting Lafarge mining in his own constituency. One would expect a seasoned politician like Dr Donkupar to reserve his statement on the subject since the matter in still in the court. One would also expect Dr Don to take into consideration the development in the case that was obviously unfavorable to the company but rather than doing that he chose to support the multinational company which in turn could affect the local indigenous people of the area. The other unique tradition of the people of the indigenous people of the state is their respect for the environment, and one would expect Bindo Lanong minister in charge of mining who is also a leader of a regional party to see that the mineral policy is passed thereby upheld the tradition of the people and protect the environment but he too failed to do so and failed the people.

If the UDP which is a major regional party is hoping to be a strong contender in the 2013 election, they first of all need to relook at the party’s ideology and decide on its future course of action. The need of the hour for the party is also to completely revamp the organization especially in the leadership level. The current leadership has failed the party as common people are now of the impression that the UDP is directionless and it’s only interest is to remain in power come what may. If the report of UDP-KHNAM merger is true, one would expect bah Bindo and bah Don to hand over the mantle to a younger generation the like of bah Paul, bah Ardent and bah John Kharshiing. That will give a new lease of life to the party workers and hope for people of the state who are longing for change. The hope for a united regional party is also brighter given the fact that the HSPDP now looks like a spent force. It leader’s long battle with age now seems to be waning, add to that Reverend Basaiawmoit is now caught in a catch 22 situation, the party’s hope to be a king-maker after the election 2013 is dwindling. In the recent past the party has not been able to have any influence beyond the border of the West Khasi hills; it is therefore in the interest of the aspiration of the major tribes which has driven the hills state movement 4 decades ago and in the interest of the state in general that HSPDP also merge to form a united regional party. A united regional party and only that can pose a challenge to the Congress party; HSPDP also has a young female aspiring politician in the person of Finola Lyngdoh Nonglait who can contribute immensely to the new movement. It is up to the regional parties to rekindle the flame and revive the regional spirit of the hills’ people, if the hills state movement can unite the entire region, what stops the regional party from having its own resurrection? In the light of the recent state Assembly election result, where we see the rise of the regional parties, it is high time for the state regional parties to introspect and decided on their further course of action.

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