After the big Bengal win in 2021, defeating the BJP, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) leadership was very keen to expand its base outside West Bengal.
They chose Tripura as their target as the state has a large number of Bengali-speaking people and also, politically, Tripura and Bengal have many similar characteristics with both the states witnessing a very long Left rule.
This was not the first time that Trinamool eyed Tripura. Earlier, they also fought elections here, but after winning Bengal for the third time, party leader Abhishek Banerjee was desperate to have a good presence in Tripura as well.
Meanwhile, Meghalaya witnessed a dramatic shift in November 2021 when an upset Mukul Sangma decided to leave the Congress and switched to the TMC with 12 MLAs.
Many speculated about then political strategist Prashant Kishore’s role in the induction of Sangma and his followers in the Trinamool. Whatever may be the fact, this change made Mamata Banerjee’s party the main opponent in the NPP-BJP led Meghalaya. Since then, the TMC’s top leadership is expecting a good showing in the hill state in this year’s election.
Banerjee’s party has kicked off the election campaign by announcing almost all the candidates’ names for the 60-member Meghalaya assembly. With ‘change’ as the theme in a state that has an over 70 per cent tribal population, the Trinamool is projecting Mukul Sangma as the party’s face in Meghalaya. He was the Chief Minister of Meghalaya from 2010 to 2018.
Sangma has a good grip in the Garo Hills area of the state, where the TMC was seen to have an edge over others. Though Prashant Kishore has left chalking for elections, his organization, I-PAC, is looking over the poll campaign in Meghalaya. A bunch of young boys and girls were roped in, many of them had prior experience handling the high-voltage Bengal campaign two years ago.
The TMC leadership has already announced two flagship schemes to attract voters. Under a programme called Meghalaya Financial Inclusion for Women Empowerment (MFIWE), the TMC has announced a monthly financial support of Rs 1,000 to households headed by women.
The party has also promised to create three lakh jobs in five years and give unemployed persons between the ages of 21 and 40 a monthly payment of Rs 1,000 under the Meghalaya Youth Empowerment scheme. Trinamool Congress leaders have been asking people to register their names in order to take advantage of the schemes if the party wins the next state election.
On a three-day tour to Meghalaya, party supremo Mamata Banerjee alleged that the ruling NPP-BJP government has failed to improve the condition of women in the state and that they need a cash benefit scheme.
According to Banerjee, a similar scheme in Bengal has proved to be beneficial for the women living there, and the TMC is hoping to do the same in Meghalaya if voted to power. She said that the rising unemployment in the state is a matter of serious concern, and the Trinamool is ready to address this issue. The party claimed that in the last one month, more than 1.5 lakh women have registered for the MFIWE scheme, and around 15,000 youths have listed their names in January.
The Trinamool is also expecting to ride on the anti-incumbency generated against the ruling party. The party leaders believe that they could benefit from the fact that the NPP and the BJP are fighting separately in the polls. But the NPP and the BJP have already alleged that the TMC is a Bengali-dominated party and that it will be remotely controlled from Kolkata.
With a large portion of voters belonging to the Christian community, this may dent their chances in the state. The Trinamool leaders are trying hard to trash this narrative, with Mukul Sangma showing the way.
Another problem the TMC is facing is that it has a very weak presence in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills regions, two predominant areas in the state. Also, some of the leaders and MLAs who earlier joined the TMC have crossed over to either join the NPP or the BJP.
However, Mamata Banerjee’s party could win a good number of seats in Meghalaya this time and can become the main opposition party in the state. But there is a flip side to it. Though, after Mukul Sangma’s departure, the Congress has become a diminished force in the state, the division of votes between the Congress and the Trinamool may pave the way for a big win for the ruling dispensation.