Meghalaya Chief Minister and National People’s Party (NPP) supremo Conrad K. Sangma is banking on the legacy of his father, former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A. Sangma, a divided opposition and decisive governance for his NPP to perform better in the February 27 elections than in 2018. Carving out time from his campaigning across the Garo Hills, he told why his party did not go for a pre-poll alliance with the BJP and what he thinks of the challenge posed by the Trinamool Congress (TMC). Excerpts:
The NPP is not only fighting the Congress and TMC but also its allies, including BJP. How do you explain that?
We have always been in the NDA from my father’s time. But when it comes to elections, we have been very clear that we will always maintain our identity and fight the elections on our own terms. A pre-poll alliance dilutes our stand and so it is best for the people to decide who they want. If the people do not give a clear mandate to our party or any other, we have to find out how to move forward and work with like-minded parties we have worked with before.
Is the TMC your main rival given the NPP’s campaign targeting the party?
We speak about TMC because it has taken up the main opposition space in some constituencies of the Garo Hills (comprising 24 of Meghalaya’s 60 seats), but we don’t see much of its presence in the Khasi-Jaintia Hills. It is not that they are going to give a fight in the Garo Hills but they seem to be in a better position than the other parties. The Khasi-Jaintia Hills (eastern half of Meghalaya with 36 seats) are a mixed bag where many parties are against each other. We have a better chance across the State because the opposition is a divided house. The Congress is fragmented, most of its MLAs joined the TMC, which too got fragmented.
What do you make of the opposition and allies accusing the NPP of indulging in large-scale corruption and illegal activities such as coal mining?
Anyone can make allegations but allegations do not mean there has been corruption. No party in power has been as transparent as the NPP in Meghalaya. Our government constituted judicial and independent probe panels every time an allegation came up, but these committees did not find evidence of any manipulation or irregularities.
Did you take a risk by inking a partial border settlement deal with Assam?
Resolving a 50-year-old dispute was indeed a massive political risk we took. The past governments never tried to resolve this complicated issue because of the risks it entailed. But we decided that if we keep thinking about political risks and let a dispute go on and on, we would not be able to serve the people with total commitment. So, we went ahead aware of the challenges involved and took the first step forward by signing an agreement (on March 29, 2022) to resolve six of the 12 disputed locations. This was not done in a day. We engaged with the people, made hundreds of visits at the grassroots level, and took the people into confidence. One has to remember there’s never a perfect solution but we have tried to move towards the best solution.
What makes the NPP hope to return to power?
Among several reasons is that Meghalaya has been more peaceful in the last five years than before despite a few law and order situations. We have provided stability despite functioning with six coalition partners, made positive changes in every sector and achieved targets for implementing various schemes. This is evident from Meghalaya having been marked one of the best performing States in the MGNREGS, PMGSY and immunisation. People trust us because they have seen we mean business and can make Meghalaya one of India’s top 10 States. The hope we have given them should make them vote for us.