This capital city of Meghalaya or the Abode of Clouds is often referred to as the Scotland of the East. As the seat of power at 4,900ft above sea level, it is also known as the height of political instability.
India’s only matrilineal state, Meghalaya has seen 20 chief ministers – three of them reigning more than once – since attaining statehood in January 1972. This works out to two years per chief minister.
Barring the NCP in 2003 and 2008, electoral contests in Meghalaya have primarily been between the Congress and regional parties.
The All Party Hill Leaders’ Conference, which spearheaded the statehood movement, won 33 of the 60 seats in the 1972 assembly elections. But it merged with rival Congress under the first chief minister Williamson A Sangma.
Williamson Sangma was the first and last to head a single-party government, power thereafter shifting from precarious coalitions of regional parties to equally volatile ones led by the Congress.
The NCP led an alliance with regional parties but it lasted for a year in 2008-2009.
The only saving grace was the Congress-led alliance headed by Salseng C Marak who completed his term from 1993-1998.
“Instability is expected from factionalism-prone regional parties. In Meghalaya, however, the Congress has been its own enemy because of leadership tussles. It neither allowed regional coalitions to function nor could it put its own house in order,” said Patricia Mukhim, editor of The Shillong Times.
Those not familiar with Meghalaya’s political dynamics can get a whiff of the instability from the number of Independent candidates seeking berths to the 60-member assembly.
From 73 in 2008 their number has increased to 122 this time, and most of them are either Congress dissidents or those who have been denied tickets by the party.
Understandably, chief minister Mukul Sangma is using the stability plank. “A coalition has its constraints. Vote for Congress, and you vote for progress,” he said at a rally.
The United Democratic Party (UDP), the principal regional party, is also wary of Meghalaya’s history of fractured mandates.
But former CM and party chief Donkupar Roy hopes voters will back the UDP to form the government. Others, including Purno A Sangma’s National People’s Party have already accepted the ‘inevitable’ – a split verdict.