The general consensus amongst the people of Meghalaya is that the ensuing election to the state assembly is going to be a dull one when compared to the 2013 election because this time around; the flow of money from the coal barons will be in short supply.
The National Green Tribunal ban on rat hole mining has dealt a severe blow on the economy of the state and had burnt holes in the pockets of the coal barons. Political observers also see the NGT ban on coalmining in the state as a blessing in disguise because coal lobby will be compelled to think twice before they squander with the meagre resources which is becoming scarcer as day goes by.
Prior to the NGT ban; coal barons were major players in almost every election by way of sponsoring candidates of their choice in the election to elect both the members of the district councils and to the legislative assembly in the state.
In fact if one look at the current list of MLAs elected to the house in 2013 especially from those elected from the two districts in Jaintia hills, except for Jowai constituency; all the MLAs elected were either themselves involve in coal business or supported by some coal barons.
But the jubilation about the falling influence of coal money and the expectation that money will now have a lesser role to play in the 2018 election is short-lived because we now see money flows from families with long political history in the state as well as those who are engaged in business like construction and other businesses too.
Although this year; the list of candidates supported or sponsored by coal barons is decreasing, but other elements are replacing the coal baron now.
In Jaintia hills the glaring example is the case of a construction contractor putting a candidate who is also his own relative to contest from the Jowai constituency. In fact four close members of the Dhar family are in the fray now and two other members of Dr Mukul Sangma family are already MLAs and all three of them will contest in the next election.
Dr Sangma is likely to contest from two constituencies in the ensuing election and the family will have four seats in its kitty (that is if all of them win the next election). The late P.A. Sangma’s family have the present MLA James Sangma and Agatha Sangma, his sister and former MP of Tura constituency, who is also contesting the coming election.
Between the three influential families of the state; – the two Sangmas families and the Dhar already have 10 out of the 60 candidates contesting the next election. The fight is not anything but it is all about which family will control Meghalaya after the 2018 February election. In the current MUA II (Meghalaya United Alliance); – Dr Mukul Sangma’s family is in control of the state, but we have to wait and see whether the coming together of the Conrad K. Sangma family with that of the Dhar will be able to replace Dr Mukul Sangma family as the more powerful family in the state.
If we look closely at the political scenario in the state, (apart from the 10 or 11 candidates put up by the three families) we will have fifty other candidates contesting the election in February but in reality; the election will ultimately be the clash of the Sangmas. It will be Sangma versus Sangma and whoever can win the maximum numbers of seats from Garo hills, will be the winner of 2018 election to the state assembly.
The other players which includes the alliance of major regional parties in the state and even the BJP which is the senior partner of the National People’s Party at the national level will have to play a second fiddle to the two Sangmas as they will have very little role in the formation of the next government in the state.
Meghalaya will definitely not go the Assam way and BJP will not be in the position to control the situation post 2018 election and it will have to satisfy with creating history by winning more seats in the Meghalaya (than it ever had) but only within a single digit range.
Money will continue to play a major role in the 2018 election to the Meghalaya state assembly with the only difference that this time the money is not coming from the coal barons but obviously from the three most influence families in the state who have already setting maximum numbers of candidates to contest in the next election.
(Mohrmen is a freelance writer and environment activist based in Jowai, Meghalaya. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)