Matrilineal Meghalaya bets on women frontrunners

The Shillong seat is the last of the Congress’ bastions across the hills States of the Northeast

Published - April 15, 2024 07:04 pm IST - GUWAHATI

West Khasi Hills: Meghalaya CM and National People’s Party (NPP) leader Conrad Sangma welcomes Masterchef India runner-up Nambie Jessica Marak as she joins the party during an election rally ahead of Lok Sabha elections, in West Khasi Hills district, Meghalaya.

West Khasi Hills: Meghalaya CM and National People’s Party (NPP) leader Conrad Sangma welcomes Masterchef India runner-up Nambie Jessica Marak as she joins the party during an election rally ahead of Lok Sabha elections, in West Khasi Hills district, Meghalaya. | Photo Credit: PTI


If the candidates of the ruling National People’s Party (NPP) win, matrilineal Meghalaya would be India’s first State with more than one Lok Sabha seat to have all-women Members of Parliament.

For that to happen, the NPP has to get the better of a Congress desperate to hold on to the Shillong parliamentary constituency, the last of its bastions across the hill States of the Northeast, and retain the Tura seat.

Also read | Northeast calculus: 25 Lok Sabha seats in eight States crucial for NDA’s target of 400

But a bigger worry for the NPP, led by Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma, seems to be the Voice of the People Party (VPP), a new regional party that has seen a meteoric rise since its birth before the 2023 Assembly elections.

Barring Assam, Lok Sabha seats have invariably been won by candidates of dominant political parties in the northeastern States, which have two parliamentary constituencies at most. This factor gives the NPP, a major ally of the BJP, an edge.

Months before the elections were announced, the NPP nominated Health Minister Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh and Agatha K. Sangma from the Shillong and Tura seats encompassing 36 and 24 Assembly segments, respectively.

A five-time MLA, Ms. Lyngdoh switched over from the Congress to the NPP ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. Ms. Sangma is seeking her third term from Tura, a constituency that has been with her family since 1977 except for a two-year phase from 1989.

“There is a misconception that women call the shots in our matrilineal communities (Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia). They hardly wield political power and ‘mandate 2024’ could be an opportunity for women to raise their voices for us in Parliament,” Eva Nongkhlaw, a self-employed woman said.

Ms. Lyngdoh has sensed an opportunity in the “positive vibes” from women to her campaign. “No woman has ever represented Shillong in the Lok Sabha. Fulfilling their expectations will be a great challenge,” she said.

Regional force

Apart from her Congress rival Vincent H. Pala, who seeks a fourth straight term, Ms. Lyngdoh faces Ricky Andrew J. Syngkon of the VPP and Robert June Kharjahrin of the United Democratic Party (UDP), the second largest party in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly.

The VPP’s brand of aggressive, community-based politics appears to have resonated across the Shillong seat, comprising the Khasi and Jaintia Hills. The party has been noisier than the others, with the cry of “ha u prah” by its supporters gate-crashing the rallies of rival parties having been reported often.

Prah in the Khasi language means winnowing tray, the VPP’s symbol. “We will separate the chaff from the grain,” Mr. Syngkon said at one of the rallies, targeting the older parties.

The aggression has not been lost on the Chief Minister. “Some parties are pitting one community against the other in Meghalaya, whose Statehood was achieved by all communities together. Think of the post-election scenario to cast your vote,” he said at an NPP rally.

Boost from BJP

While the Congress campaign for Mr. Pala has been uncharacteristically subdued, allegedly because of infighting, that of the NPP received a shot in the arm after the State BJP unit joined the canvassing. Local BJP leaders had initially threatened to not back the NPP as they were angry at the party’s central leadership for deciding not to contest the Meghalaya seats for the sake of National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

For the NPP, the BJP’s support is expected to be more crucial in Tura, which comprises the western half of Meghalaya.

“Our State unit is trying to swing the campaign in favour of the NDA candidate Agatha Sangma,” State BJP vice-president Bernard N. Marark said. He represents Tura town as a member of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council.

Ms. Sangma’s chances have also brightened because Congress and the Trinamool Congress — constituents of the Indian National Developmental, Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) — have fielded former Minister Zenith Sangma and MLA Saleng A. Sangma from Tura.

Tura has a total of four candidates while six candidates, including two independents, will be fighting it out for the Shillong seat on April 19.

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