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Meghalaya goes to polls early next year; resignations are likely to hit chief minister Mukul Sangma-led Congress party’s chance of retaining power in the state

At a time when the Congress party has been celebrating the limited revival of its political fortunes in the recently concluded Gujarat Assembly polls, where it showed a remarkable upswing in its vote-share despite losing the election, it received a major setback on Friday from Meghalaya – one of the few states left where the Grand Old Party is still in power.

Reducing chief minister Mukul Sangma’s government to a minority, five of the Congress’ 30 legislators in the north-eastern state resigned on Friday. The legislators, including deputy chief minister Rowell Lyngdoh, blamed the chief minister’s “autocratic style of functioning” for their decision and indicated that they, along with three other legislators who have also resigned, will be joining the Opposition National People’s Party at a mega-rally scheduled to be held next week.

The resignation of the five Congress MLAs has reduced the strength of the ruling party in the 60-member Meghalaya assembly to 24 as they come days after another party legislator PN Syiem also quit from his seat in the house.

Three other MLAs, including one from the United Democratic Party and two Independents, have also tendered their resignations from the House, Assembly Principal Secretary Andrew Simons told news agency PTI.

Rowell, a veteran Congress leader of the state, has announced that all the eight MLAs who resigned on Friday will join the National People’s Party (NPP).

The resignations clearly come as a sign of worry for the Congress – both nationally and in Meghalaya – as the party has been miserably failing to wrest power in states against the victory march of the BJP which started in 2014 with Narendra Modi leading his party to power at the Centre. The Grand Old Party, which marked its 133rd Foundation Day just earlier this week days after Rahul Gandhi was elected to be its president, has recently lost power in Himachal Pradesh. The only big state where the party is now in power is Karnataka – which goes to polls early next year along with Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura – albeit its chances of retaining hold of the southern state are also debatable at the moment.

What would certainly come as a greater cause of worry for the Congress party and especially Rahul Gandhi is the prevailing buzz in the political grapevine that the NPP could enter into a pre-poll or a post-poll alliance with the BJP in Meghalaya. The desertions from the Congress to the NPP make the regional outfit a strong contender for victory in Meghalaya, where the term of the assembly is set to end on March 6.

If the NPP wins the state poll at enters into an alliance with the BJP, it could mark the saffron party’s second electoral win in the north-east, after its landslide victory in Assam – which too, like Meghalaya, was a Congress bastion. Such an eventuality will also take the BJP’s tally of state governments under its control to an unprecedented 20, making Prime Minister Narendra Modi appear even more invincible at the hustings than he currently looks like.

The five Congress MLAs who resigned on Friday had earlier rebelled against chief minister Mukul Sangma and the party leadership. Four of the five Congress Legislators were part of the state Cabinet earlier and had been sulking ever since Sangma once sacked them on alleged ground of incompetence.

“Eight MLAs submitted their resignation to me at the office of the Speaker today. The Speaker was on a tour and was not available at his office… the resignations have also been emailed to Speaker Abu Mondal,” Assembly Principal Secretary Andrew Simons said.

Three other MLAs who quit are Remington Pyngrope (UDP) and two Independents– Stephanson Mukhim and Hopeful Bamon.

“We are joining the NPP on January 4 at a rally at Pologrounds,” Rowell told reporters, adding that it was a difficult decision to leave the Congress but he was compelled to do so “because of the people.”

Hitting out at chief minister Mukul Sangma, the former deputy chief minister said, “The autocratic style of functioning of the chief minister had made it difficult for me and others to function in the government.”

He also slammed the state Congress president DD Lapang, who he alleged gave in to the diktats of the chief minister and went ahead and dissolved the block Congress committee in many constituencies including his.

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