‘Communal’ Congress? Such an adjective is quite unfamiliar for the country’s oldest party. Even the arch rival BJP does not use this term to criticise the Congress, while the vice versa is heard every day in the media. But in the remote North-east where the BJP’s core Hindu vote bank is in minority, the Congress has taken a different strategy to polarise the non-Hindu votes. The bye-election to Tura Lok Sabha seat, which became vacant following demise of former Lok Sabha Speaker and founder of National People’s Party (NPP) Purno A Sangma, has seen an attempt by the Congress to polarise votes on religious lines. Congress candidate Dikkanchi D Shira minced no words about BJP’s alleged anti-Christian ideology. She said the BJP did not dare field any candidate in the election because it knows Christians, who are in majority in the state as well as Garo Hills, will not vote for the party. She also said BJP cannot protect the interest of Christians and Muslims.
The Congress is making an all-out effort to this time to wrest the Tura seat this time from Purno Sangma family, which severed had its ties with the grand old party in 1999 when Sangma co-founded the Nationalist Congress Party against Sonia Gandhi being promoted as party president. However, the Congress, especially the candidate Dikkanchi and her husband chief minister Mukul Sangma, have trained the gun against the BJP as much as the NPP and its candidate Conrad Sangma, the son of Purno Sangma. The BJP is an ally of the NPP in this election and deserved to be targeted by the rival party, but the criticism has gone too far. Congress is creating a feeling that Conrad is not NPP’s but BJP’s candidate.
The outrageous campaign of the Congress against NPP-BJP shows the party is wary of an onslaught of the saffron brigade in Garo Hills. After its candidate for Shillong in the Lok Sabha polls, Shibun Lyngdoh, made a dent in several assembly segments in capital Shillong, the party for the first time won a seat in the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council elections recently. The Congress has well understood that the BJP has taken full advantage of being at the Centre to convey its message, especially in the non-Hindu dominated states, that the party is not communal as has been alleged by Congress for decades and that it is the best alternative for the country. Decimated in the last Lok Sabha election, the desperation of Congress is obvious. The election speeches of Mukul and Dikkanchi targeting BJP in Garo Hills are no wonder.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on May 13, 2016)