Accepting Union Home Minister Amit Shah's accusation that the Meghalaya government is "one of the most corrupt" in the country, the Congress alleged that the BJP has “encouraged” such a state of affairs in the Northeastern State.
The ruling NPP has been riddled with corruption charges by its former allies, including the BJP, as also by opponents such as the Congress and the Trinamool Congress.
Meghalaya's state Congress President Vincent Pala told PTI in an interview that he agreed that Union Minister Amit Shah was “correct” in saying that “the Meghalaya government is one of the most corrupt” in the country.
Mr. Pala went on to claim that “this has been encouraged by the BJP”.
The BJP was in the NPP-led coalition from its beginning in 2018, he pointed out.
Addressing a poll rally in North Tura constituency, Mr. Shah had on February 16, said the BJP broke its alliance with the NPP before the elections in Meghalaya so that it can contest all 60 Assembly seats and emerge stronger.
Mr. Pala also claimed that the setback of desertions by its entire lot of MLAs who won in 2018 is a thing of the past, and said the party is pinning hope for a turnaround in the upcoming assembly elections in the Northeastern State on fresh candidates sans any past baggage.
Leader of opposition and former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, ex-Assembly speaker Charles Pyngrope and 10 other Congress legislators had shifted their allegiance to the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC in 2021.
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The Congress, which once was the prime power in the hill State, has put up candidates in all 60 seats for the February 27 Assembly polls.
"Slowly, we are gaining ground as the new candidates bring fresh minds, ideas, hopes for the youth, and the anti-incumbency is quite high this time as compared to the previous elections," Mr. Pala said, adding that the people are "coming back to the Congress with these points in mind".
"We have crossed the odds now and are in a position to fight. The party is campaigning very hard. We are quite confident of doing well," he said.
Fresh faces, more women candidates
Of the 60 candidates fielded by the Congress, 44 are new faces, Mr. Pala said.
He also mentioned that people are “viewing Congress as their best bet” in the February 27 polls as it mostly has "fresh faces devoid of any controversy".
"Majority of the nominees are qualified people. We have also put up as many women candidates possible," he said, expressing hope that “female voters' choice will tilt towards the grand old party.
The Congress has nominated Manuel Badwar, an IIM Kolkata graduate from East Shillong and Adrian Lambert Chyne Millie, who studied psychology in Singapore, from Jirang constituency.
The party has fielded 10 women candidates.
Asked about the low number of women candidates despite Meghalaya being a matrilineal society, Mr. Pala said that it is not that women aspirants were not deliberately put up.
"I think most women are not willing to join politics because of family engagement and poverty," he said.
Unless there is a reservation of seats for women in Parliament and the state legislatures, the situation is likely to continue, the Congress MP said.
‘Loot of resources’: Pala
Mr. Pala accused the NPP-led coalition government of being involved in corruption, and claimed that Meghalaya has been subjected to “loot of its resources”.
The Conrad Sangma government has been accused by opposition parties of a ₹140 crore land acquisition scam, which the ruling party has vehemently denied.
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"It's a daylight robbery in Meghalaya and it's not just one scam, but several," he said.
It has been alleged that middlemen made a quick buck at the cost of original landowners whose assets were acquired by the government.
"The government is losing out revenue owing to illegal coal and limestone and transportation of betel nuts outside the state through unlawful means," Mr. Pala said.
Questioning why the BJP is accusing the NPP of all ills in the government, he said the saffron party has been in the ruling coalition right from the beginning.
Maintaining that it is a "game" that the BJP and the NPP are "playing to hoodwink" electorates, the Congress MP from Shillong said, "They will all come together after the elections." Asked whether he will join the BJP, Mr. Pala said that if he had to switch over to the saffron party, he would have done that in the beginning.
"Whether I win or lose, I will always remain in the Congress," said Mr. Pala, who is contesting from Sutnga Saipung constituency in East Jaintia Hills district.
‘Gandhi family close to the hearts of people’
Admitting that the party has little strength in West Garo hills after Mukul Sangma left with 11 other legislators to join the TMC, he said the Congress is still likely to do well in East, South and North Garo hills.
Mr. Pala said that Rahul Gandhi campaigning in Shillong will definitely have an impact on the voters, mainly in the urban and semi-urban areas of the state.
"Rahul Gandhi and the entire Gandhi family from Nehru, Indira to Rajiv Gandhi have been very close to the hearts of the people of Meghalaya," he said.
The Congress leader also blamed the NDA government at the Centre for border issues between Meghalaya and Assam and alleged that it sees that the BJP-ruled States dominate the others.
"They try to bulldoze the smaller States," he said.
To solve the inter-state boundary dispute, there is a need for patience along with dedicated and unbiased persons who would give due importance to the emotions of the people involved, Mr. Pala said.
"We must have a proper body like a boundary commission who know the culture, habits of the people and history and geography of the area," he added.