Congress eyes comeback in Meghalaya, Nagaland as it bets on ‘confusion’ among voters

The party is banking mostly on new faces in Meghalaya but it struggled to find candidates in Nagaland 

February 25, 2023 10:16 pm | Updated 10:52 pm IST - Guwahati

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a public meeting ahead of Meghalaya Assembly polls in Shillong on February 22, 2023.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi addresses a public meeting ahead of Meghalaya Assembly polls in Shillong on February 22, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Once the party for every other to beat in the northeast, Congress is eyeing a comeback in Meghalaya and Nagaland.

Elections to the 60-member assemblies in these two States would be held on February 27.

The grand old party was the single-largest in the 2018 Meghalaya polls with 21 seats. However, all its MLAs defected to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and other political parties well ahead of Mandate 2023.

The setback, however, did not prevent Congress from fielding candidates in all the 60 constituencies in Meghalaya. The BJP is the only other party to contest 60 seats.

State Congress president and Lok Sabha member, Vincent H. Pala said the loss of several veterans was a blessing in disguise. “It gave us the opportunity to rebuild our house and put up fresh candidates without any baggage of the past. We hope the people would repose their faith in a new set of Congress leaders,” he said.

Of the 60 candidates, 47 are less than 45 years old. A majority of these candidates have strong academic and professional backgrounds. Mr. Pala is contesting from the Sutnga Saipung constituency.

The party also hopes to make the most of the “confusion” among the voters to choose from four or more parties in at least 40 seats. “Congress is a name that still registers with many people, particularly in the rural areas, who may not connect with new parties such as the TMC,” a Congress leader from South Garo Hills district said.

Congress ruled Meghalaya in coalition with smaller parties for almost 28 years, which is twice the period it ruled in Nagaland.

The party had a similar fate in Nagaland exactly two decades ago. It emerged as the single-largest party in 2003 with 21 seats but the Naga People’s Front (NPF) with 19 seats cobbled up an alliance with the BJP and other parties to form the government.

Congress received a jolt in 2015 when its eight MLAs joined the NPF-BJP alliance much to the annoyance of its central leadership. The party struggled to find candidates for the 2018 polls and 15 of the 18 it fielded lost their deposits.

The struggle was marginally less for Congress this time. It fielded 25 candidates but two of them withdrew. The withdrawal of the candidate from the Akuluto constituency helped BJP’s Kazheto Kimini win unopposed.

Nagaland Congress president Kewekhape Therie put up a brave face. “We hope to put up a strong fight,” he said.

A former minister, he is contesting from the Dimapur-I constituency against BJP legislator Tovihoto Ayemi. He won the last election from Pfutsero in 2003.

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