New Delhi: In its Congress-mukt Bharat mission, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has uprooted the strong CPI(M) from one of its last two bastions of Tripura and its alliance in Nagaland with Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) is neck and neck with the Naga People's Front alliance.
The BJP even won a dozen seats in the Christian majority state, up from its 2013 figure of one. But in another Christian-dominated state, Meghalaya, the story is quite different. In spite of a strong campaign by the saffron party and multiple visits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the abode of the clouds remains an unconquered frontier.
BJP's tryst with Meghalaya started in 1993 when the party contested in 20 seats, winning none and forfeiting its deposits in 14. BJP's best year in the hill state was 1998 when it bagged 3 seats. Since 1998, BJP's presence in the Meghalaya Assembly has been on a steady decline in subsequent elections. The party won 2 seats in 2003, 1 in 2008 and none in 2013. In fact, all its candidates in the 2013 elections had to forfeit their deposits.
In 2018, BJP has managed to win 2 seats - both General seats in Shillong with a dominant non-tribal population. Both the seats have been won by BJP multiple times in their pre-delimitation avatars. Both the candidates AL Hek (Pynthorumkhrah) and Sanbor Shullai (South Shillong) were sitting MLAs with strong support base and both moved over to the BJP just before the elections. Both the victories can, to a large extent, be attributed more to the candidates than to the party.
Meanwhile, in North Shillong, the party lost a close contest by 406 votes against the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM).
Hek was originally with BJP and one of the first three BJP MLAs in the Meghalaya Assembly back in 1998. Hek, who has won all elections since 1998, had contested the 2013 polls on a Congress ticket, but returned to BJP just before the 2018 elections. Shullai, a two time MLA from Shillong South (which was Laban constituency pre-delimitation), also switched his allegiance from NCP to BJP.
One of the tallest BJP leaders in Meghalaya was the late TH Rangad, a two-time MLA from Laban. Rangad was also the first BJP MLA to hold a ministerial position in any North Eastern state. He was Home Minister in the EK Mawlong-led coalition government in the early 2000s. Even though BJP managed to retain the Laban seat in the by-poll following Rangad's death in 2003, with his wife Jopsimon Phanbuh being elected the MLA, the party lost the seat to Shullai (then in NCP) in 2008.
The 2 seats that the party won in 2018 in Meghalaya might be lower than the past, but the party has increased its vote share in the state form a previous best of 5.42% (2003) to 9.6% in 2018. BJP is in the second position in 7 seats.
BJP vote share increase is a result of the number of candidates that the party has fielded this year, which is more than double any other election in the past.
Unlike in Tripura and Nagaland, BJP did not forge a pre-poll alliance in Meghalaya and it might be a key factor in the party's below-expectation performance in the state.