Meghalaya has had a history of political instability since it was carved out of Assam in 1972.
This has made the state pioneer government-saving strategies such as choosing a chief minister by lottery, splitting a five-year term equally between two parties with the toss of a coin to decide which would rule first, and making a lone independent MLA the chief minister.
The legacy of shakiness got to incumbent chief minister Mukul Sangma, who heads the Congress-led Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) government that has 44 MLAs in the 60-member state assembly. The Congress has 30 MLAs, one short of the majority mark.
Sangma has been facing dissidence since the MUA – with some different stakeholders – retained power in 2013. But the trouble increased in intensity after his MLA wife Dikkanchi D Shira lost the by-election to the Tura Lok Sabha seat in May this year.
A few Congress MLAs revolted against Mukul Sangma, blaming him for Shira’s loss to Conrad Sangma of National People’s Party (NPP). The leader of the dissidents allegedly was state Congress president and former chief minister DD Lapang.
Party insiders said it was payback time for the 82-year-old Lapang, who was replaced by Mukul Sangma as chief minister in 2010 after a similar dissidence.
The BJP’s victory in Assam and the creation of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) helmed by Congress turned BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma, multiplied Mukul Sangma’s worries.
The trouble spilt out after Mukul Sangma slammed a TV channel for claiming it had access to his ‘SOS note’ to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi. The note, the channel said, outlined Lapang and other Congress leaders’ meeting with BJP bigwigs, including Sarma.
Sarma denied meeting Meghalaya Congress leaders. “Our focus is not on Meghalaya but on Manipur because it is going to polls next year,” he said.
State Congress leaders, “annoyed by the chief minister’s dictatorial rule”, approached AICC for a change of leadership.
The Congress-led local tribal councils too revolted against Mukul Sangma, particularly over the issue of holding dual posts of MLA and the chief executive member of a council.
Senior AICC leaders such as CP Joshi and V Narayanasamy headed several rounds of meetings with the dissidents in Delhi and in Shillong. The rebels stood their ground.
Some Congress MLAs from the Garo Hills – the western half of Meghalaya to which Mukul Sangma, a Garo tribal, belongs – said they were not averse to joining the NPP, a constituent of the opposition Meghalaya People’s Front (MPF) headed by United Democratic Party (UDP).
The rebels’ threat energised the two-party MPF, which has a total 10 MLAs. The two parties are constituents of the BJP-led NEDA.
The opposition’s enthusiasm was eroded a bit after NEDA took a blow when the Supreme Court, on July 13, reinstated the Congress government in Arunachal Pradesh and de-recognised the rebel Congress government that NEDA had allegedly propped up there.
The brakes on NEDA and perceived slowdown of the BJP in Meghalaya appeared to have quietened the anti-Mukul Sangma camp.
The chief minister saw no threat to his government. “It is not a question of dissidence but of grievances being blown out of proportion because of certain rumours that I was quitting and switching parties,” he had told Hindustan Times.
Lapang was diplomatic, indicating the dissidence was losing steam. “As the party president, my responsibility is to keep the house in order. We will accept whatever decision the high command takes.”
The opposition, allegedly fuelled by BJP, did not give up hope of upsetting the Congress-led government. It first took on assembly speaker Abu Taher Mondal for his “bias” and pushed for his removal on September 9.
Three days later, the opposition sought a no-trust vote against Mukul Sangma’s government. “We are confident of sailing through,” Lapang said before the no-confidence motion on Thursday.
However, opposition parties withdrew the no-confidence motion tabled against the Congress government after a marathon six-hour debate.
Opposition Hill State People Democratic Party (HSPDP) chief Ardent M Basaiawmoit, who moved the motion along with two other regional parties, withdrew the motion following a 2-hour long reply from Mukul Sangma.