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Wind blowing Congress’s way

Feb. 17: Across Meghalaya’s highlands, the brown winter lands

cape is regularly punctuated with fluttering tri-coloured Congress flags while the drum-bearing symbols of the United Democratic Party (UDP) are relegated to pockets.

Purno Sangma and his National People’s Party (NPP) are concentrating in the Garo hills. The party, which has its origins in Manipur, has not fielded candidates in all the 60 Assembly seats and is hoping for a coalition with the UDP and BJP.

The campaign of the UDP and BJP alliance or the NDA, if you can call it that, is meek with a nearly forgotten BJP.

The Congress is preparing to launch a high-profile campaign with almost all top-level leaders scheduled to tour the state. The BJP, on the other hand, has had to fight to get its top leaders on the ground.

Recently, Sangma announced his support for Narendra Modi as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, but Sangma himself had few supporters backing his poll campaign back home.

The lone exception was Arun Jaitley, leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, who delivered a speech in a closed hall on Thursday. Back in a hotel, the climate was hardly that of a pre-poll war room. Kiren Rijiju, the young former BJP MP from Arunachal Pradesh sat down alone, looking to finalise an itinerary for Jaitley.

The Northeast Sampark Cell was desperate to have a press conference where Jaitley would announce their vision document for the region, but there was hardly any time or planning.

“The Congress has fielded the who’s who of their party. From our party only Mr. Jaitley has come,” said Rijiju, in-charge of Meghalaya.

Unlike a decade ago, when the people looked up at leaders like Thrang Rangad or A.L Hek with respect, the BJP hardly has any teeth left in the state.

In any case, the synergy achieved by the Centre and the state’s initiatives may work wonders for the Congress. In fact, Meghalaya has all the makings of a face-saver for the Congress that is pessimistic about Nagaland and fighting to keep its Tripura unit afloat.

At Shillong’s Police Bazaar area, flags and mementos of the party were stacked up in front of the Congress headquarters. Secretaries and general secretaries busied themselves on Thursday, one of them putting in order documents for the Prime Minister’s visit. A co-ordinator sent despatches with inputs on what Congress president Sonia Gandhi would speak in the Jaintia hills next week.

But perhaps, its not just about top leaders parachuting down during election time. While travelling from Guwahati to Shillong one can find the NHAI double-laning National Highway 40.

The Centre sanctioned this well ahead of the polls in 2010. Elsewhere, it is the state that has made connectivity one of the priorities.

Chief minister Mukul Sangma is credited with commencing the job on the state highway link from Shillong to Tura, a vital link that the Garo hills would welcome. The road network could be a blow to Purno Sangma’s charisma. “It could well be, my vehicle says so,” said a smiling Bah Bah from Smit town who runs a weathered hatchback taxi in the Khasi hills.

Sangma has not been in power at the Centre or state for a long time. He lost the Presidential polls last year and continues to be a street-fighter at the hustings, but is short on resources.

“The other party is spending like it’s no one’s business, we are no match,” said an NPP source as Sangma prepared to canvass in Ri Bhoi district.

At the Nongpoh market, fruit vendors selling pineapple and fish pickles lead their usual lives, partly worried if the highway was such a good prospect for their tiny businesses. “But what can we do?” asked vendor Sunita Devi who conceded that D.D Lapang hardly had a competitor in this Congress bastion.