Meghalaya elections to change people’s perception of Congress wipeout in northeast: Vincent Pala4 min read . Updated: 22 Feb 2018, 03:41 PM IST
Congress MP from Shillong, Vincent Pala, on challenges faced by the party in Meghalaya, defection of senior leaders, and the enthusiasm in the party cadre
Shillong: The Congress party faces an uphill task in the upcoming state elections in Meghalaya as it battles anti-incumbency and anger among voters over lack of jobs and development. In the run-up to the polls, senior Congress leader and Lok Sabha member from Shillong, Vincent H. Pala, has been appointed working president of the party’s state unit. In an interview, Pala spoke about the challenges faced by the party in the poll-bound state, defection of senior leaders, and the enthusiasm in the party cadre. Edited excerpts:
Since the 2014 general elections, the Congress has lost state after state in the North-East, which was once a bastion. In that context, how do you see the Meghalaya elections?
There was a lot of popularity in the mindset of people for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but that has come down drastically when he failed to generate employment.
People think that this has been some sort of, I will not say betrayal, but some sort of negligence on the part of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government. They had promised lots of things in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh but so far nothing is happening. Even in Manipur, people saw that even though we had numbers we could not form government.
In Meghalaya, people realized very fast with the results of Gujarat that the people all over the areas are coming back to Congress. With the results of Rajasthan byelections and that has encouraged the people in Meghalaya. Nowadays whatever happens in one part of the country affects the other corner of the country. I think, the wave of Uttar Pradesh is no more there, people think that Congress is going to come back.
How important is the Meghalaya election for Congress?
I think it will be the beginning of the changing of the perception of the people that Congress will be wiped out from the North-East. BJP is ruling in 19 states and right now people think that we cannot afford to lose, so more than Congress the common people, those from regional groups say that at all cost we should not allow the BJP to come.
In the run-up to the Meghalaya elections, a lot of senior leaders, including MLAs, quit the party. The message that goes among people is that Congress’ house in not in order—how do you plan to address that?
I do agree with you that some of them left us and went to NPP (National People’s Party), some went to BJP and some formed their own parties. Had these all people who left us joined in the same party then people would have had faith in them. But all of them left and gave different reasons. Some abused the chief minister, they have been working with him for last 5-10 years and at the end they think that the Congress will not come to power and that is why they left. So, people are smart enough now.
Lots of people think that people who left us are business people, they want to make business out of politics. But this has made way for infusing fresh blood in the party and there is more scope for others also. Lately, there is a lot of enthusiasm in the party to work very hard. Rather I can say they are working double of what we were suppose to work.
You are an MP also from Shillong. The Jaintia Hills districts were hit by banning of illegal coal mines. A lot of people feel disgruntled that the government did not do enough to rehabilitate people affected by the ban.
There is a strong sentiment. But let me tell you that the people from this coal belt have never voted for Congress so naturally people in those areas are already against the Congress and they will have that sentiment. But, the truth is that coal is not a state subject, coal is a central subject.
I think it is very wrong to say that the state should have a policy. It has never been in any part of India that a state has a mining policy, there is no question of a mining policy. We have a mining rule, we have mining Act based on which rules are formed. A question of policy does not arise, a policy is only how you sell, its not how you mine.
When the prime minster came here, he said that the Congress is supporting coal mafias. The people thought that even if BJP is in power, the government is not in favour of mining. The clash of statements given by the BJP in state and by the PM, that will not go down well for BJP. I do not think BJP will win a single seat in Jaintia Hills.
Voters in Meghalaya say that two of the biggest issues in this election are unemployment and lack of development. There is also criticism that despite being in power in Meghalaya for majority of the time since its formation, Congress has not done enough, how do you respond?
I do agree with you that more than 10 lakh people are involved directly or indirectly in coal mining and that will affect a lot of jobs. But in lieu of that, significantly, more than 40,000-50,000 people got jobs in tourism sector. Tourists have been coming a lot and this has brought in a lot of direct and indirect employment.
In terms of education, health and sports—these are also going to create a lot of jobs. To say that we have not created jobs, I think is unfair. We have done it, may be not up to the expectations of the people. Whatever we have done is one of the best, at least in the entire North-East.