October 02, 2020
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Fractured Mandate

While some sort of coalition will, eventually, be cobbled together, the possibility of a stable alliance committed to peace and development remains remote.

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Fractured Mandate

The issues of political stability and development dominated the 7th Legislative Assembly elections in the State of Meghalaya ahead of the polls on February 26, 2003, after years of political chaos, instability and violence. Meghalaya has had four Chief Ministers and six governments over the preceding five years, since the elections of 1998. With constant political uncertainty and a growing menace of terrorism, the overall security situation in the State had become increasingly volatile.

The election results have hardly improved the situation, and the people's verdict in Meghalaya has created conditions for another bout of coalition politics and horse-trading.

The fractured mandate has made the Indian National Congress (INC) the single largest party with 22 seats, followed by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) with 14, in a 60-seat Assembly. Various State and regional parties fared poorly, with the United Democratic Party (UDP) managing to win nine seats; the Meghalaya Democratic Party (MDP) four seats and the Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP) two seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM), the political wing of the Khasi Student's Union (KSU), have also won two seats each, with Independents cornering the remaining five.

Virtually all the winning parties have been part of the outgoing ruling coalition, the Meghalaya People's Forum (MPF). There is, however, a catch in the new arrangement, since there were no pre-poll alliances this time between the INC and the NCP, or among the State parties.

What is encouraging, however, is that, in spite of general apprehensions, Meghalaya had a relatively peaceful election, unlike Tripura and Nagaland. Four persons were injured in different parts of the State in poll-related violence, and re-polling had to be ordered in three polling stations - Madanrting in East Khasi Hills, Nongtalang in Jaintia Hills and Capasipara in the Garo Hills due to technical snags in Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and incidents of vandalism on February 28, 2003.

It would, however, be incorrect to conclude that the voters in the State were free from fear. Although the influential Achik Baptist Dalgipa Krisna (ABDK), head of all Baptist churches in the Garo Hills, issued its poll guidelines for peaceful and focused franchise in the State and urged all members of society to pray for a peaceful and successful election, the terrorism-related death toll touched 15 (including 13 civilians) between the date of the announcement of the polling schedule and the elections. This trend demonstrates the situation on the ground and the alarming deterioration of the law and order machinery in the State.

Despite repeated threats from underground organizations and sporadic incidents of violence before and during election, the total voter turnout was encouraging at 70.38 percent, though lower than the 74.52 per cent in 1998. The War-Jaintia Assembly Constituency (AC) topped the list with an 83 percent voter turnout, while Malki-Nongthymmai AC of East Khasi Hills district recorded the lowest turnout, at 44.90 percent.

Even the seven ACs of the Jaintia Hills district witnessed high turnouts in the face of threats issued by the Assam-based Karbi National Volunteers (KNV) and United People's Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), who have been fighting for greater autonomy for the Karbi tribe in eastern Assam. On February 8, in one of the macabre incidents of pre-poll violence, KNV terrorists killed six villagers in Jaintia Hill district after severely torturing them. The KNV had earlier warned the villagers of the area bordering Assam not to participate in the poll process.

Although both the homegrown terrorist outfits, Achik National Volunteer Council (ANVC) and Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), maintained a low profile during the polls, the Election Commission had declared some 500-odd polling stations (out of a total 1,543 booths) 'sensitive' and stepped up security measures accordingly. While the HNLC rejected the electoral process under the 'Indian administration', the ANVC is believed to have collusive ties with some political parties in the State. However, instead of any large-scale violence or interference during the elections, the ANVC continued with its abduction-for-ransom activities relentlessly. On Election Day itself, security forces rescued four abducted persons, including one Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) officer, from Damalgiri near Tura.

The general perception in Meghalaya is that the fractured mandate will fuel instability and could also give a fillip to terrorist groups operating in the state. While some sort of coalition will, eventually, be cobbled together, the possibility of a stable alliance committed to peace and development remains remote.

The author is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy: South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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