Electoral Politics in Meghalaya: A Study of Lok Sabha Elections in 2004 and 2009.

Dash, Biswaranjan


Introduction Election to 15th Lok-Sabha
Election to 14th Lok-Sabha Observations
  Conclusion

Abstract
    Meghalaya is a small state in North-East India. It is predominantly a tribal state inhabited mainly by the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes. At the time of Independence of the Country in 1947, the present day Meghalaya constituted two districts of Assam and enjoyed limited autonomy within the State of Assam.The Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act, 1969 accorded an autonomous status to the State of Meghalaya. The Act came into effect on April 2, 1970 and an Autonomous State of Meghalaya was created within the State of Assam. In 1971, the parliament passed the North Eastern Areas (Reorganization) Act, 1971, which conferred full statehood on the Autonomous State of Meghalaya. Meghalaya attained statehood on 21st January 1972 with a Legislative Assembly of its own. It became the twenty-first state of the Indian Union. Ever since the inauguration of the constitution of free India on 26th January 1950, as many as fifteen general elections have been successfully conducted in this largest democracy of the world.
For the first time, in 1952, one parliamentary seat was allotted to Autonomus Hill Districts, which comprised Khasi-Jaintia Hills, Mikir Hills, North Cachar Hills and Naga Hills and two seats to Goalpara Garo Hills District. Thereafter, elections to these Lok Sabha seats of Autonomous Hill Districts and Goalpara Garo Hills District were continued to be held in 1957, 1962, 1967 and 1971. In Meghalaya, Elections to Lok Sabha for the first time was conducted in 1977. From 1977 there have been two Lok Sabha seats in Meghalaya, namely Shillong and Tura. Since 1977 till 2009, there have been altogether 10 Lok Sabha elections in Meghalaya. This paper, however, briefly focuses on the Lok Sabha elections in 2004 and 2009 in the state of Meghalaya.

 

KEY WORDS: Electoral Politics, Meghalaya, Lok Sabha Elections, North-East India, Tribal state.

1. Introduction

    Meghalaya is a small state in North-East India. It is predominantly a tribal state inhabited mainly by the Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes. The Khasi, Garo and Jaintia tribes each had their own kingdoms, until they came under the British administration in the 19th century. Later, the British incorporated Meghalaya into Assam in 1835. The region enjoyed semi-independent status by virtue of a treaty relationship with the British Crown. When Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal on 16 October 1905, Meghalaya became a part of the new province of “Eastern Bengal and Assam”. However, when the partition was reversed in 1912, Meghalaya became a part of the province of Assam.

    On 3rd January, 1921 in pursuance of section 52A of the Government of India Act of 1919, the Governor-General-in-Council declared the areas, now in Meghalaya, other than the Khasi states, as “backward tracts”. Subsequently however, the Government of India Act of 1935 regrouped the backward tracts into two categories, namely, “excluded” and “partially excluded” areas in place of backward tracts.

    At the time of Independence of the Country in 1947, the present day Meghalaya constituted two districts of Assam and enjoyed limited autonomy within the State of Assam. (‘Meghalaya’, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) The present state of Meghalaya was first carved out of the composite state of Assam as autonomous state, in pursuance to 22nd Constitutional Amendment Act (Assam Reorganisation Act) No. 55 of 1969 passed on 24th December, 1969 by the two houses of the Parliament, to be known as Meghalaya, within the state of Assam, comprising United Khasi and Jaintia Hills District and the Garo Hills District as defined in the Sixth Schedule to the constitution (Datta, 1986, p.114)

    The Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act, 1969 accorded an autonomous status to the State of Meghalaya. The Act came into effect on April 2, 1970 and an Autonomous State of Meghalaya was created within the State of Assam (‘Meghalaya’, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

    The Autonomous State comprised the united Khasi-Jaintia Hills District and the Garo Hills District. The three wards of the Shillong Municipality – the European ward, the police Bazar and the Jail Road ward- and Cantonment Area remained with Assam as prescribed in Assam Reorganisation (Meghalaya) Act, 1969. The Autonomous state had a Legislature in accordance with the Sixth Schedule to the constitution of India. The Legislature had 37 members.

    The most important feature of the Meghalaya Act (55 to 1969) was that it created a new tier in India’s state structure similar to the Autonomous Republic of erstwhile USSR. The Executive power of the new unit was vest in the Governor of Assam, aided and advised by the council of Ministers of Meghalaya, in relation to the Autonomous state. A legislative Assembly was also created with membership open to all Indians. Except Shillong, all seats in the Autonomous District for election to Assam Legislature have been restricted to the Schedule Tribes of the Autonomous Districts. Further, Governor was empowered to nominate up to three members from the minority community if, in his opinion, they were inadequately represented.

    But some of the Hill Leaders were not satisfied with it and demanded a full statehood for Meghalaya. In 1971, the parliament passed the North Eastern Areas (Reorganization) Act, 1971, which conferred full statehood on the Autonomous State of Meghalaya. Meghalaya attained statehood on 21st January, 1972 with a Legislative Assembly of its own. It became the twenty-first state of the Indian Union.

    Ever since the inauguration of the constitution of free India on 26th January, 1950, as many as fifteen general elections have been successfully conducted in this largest democracy of the world. The people have exercised, with reasonable maturity, their sovereign power to elect their representatives. They have used these opportunities to approve or disapprove the acts of commission or omission on the part of the ruling as well as opposition parties.

    The first general election of our country under the Indian constitution was held in 1952. At that time there was no state in the name of Meghalaya. Today Khasi Hills, Jantia Hills and Garo Hills which are very much parts of the state of Meghalaya, were all parts of the composite state of Assam having their Autonomous District Council in Khasi-Jaintia Hills (combined) & Garo Hills.

    For the first time, in 1952, one parliamentary seat was allotted to Autonomus Hill Districts, which comprised Khasi-Jaintia Hills, Mikir Hills, North Cachar Hills and Naga Hills and two seats to Goalpara Garo Hills District. Thereafter, election to these Lok Sabha seats of Autonomous Hill Districts and Goalpara Garo Hills District were continued to be held at a normal interval in 1957, 1962, 1967 and 1971. From 1977 there have been two Lok Sabha seats in Meghalaya, namely Shillong and Tura.

    In Meghalaya, Elections to Lok Sabha for the first time was conducted in 1977. Since then till 2009, there have been altogether 10 Lok Sabha elections. Meghalaya has only two Lok Sabha seats, namely Shillong and Tura. Both the constituencies differ from each other in their social compositions. Shillong is the larger constituency between the two and is primarily inhabited by Khasis and Jaintias. On the other hand, Tura is populated mostly by Garos. Linguistically, Khasis and Jaintias are not very different. People of these two groups understand each other’s language well. Sometimes, outside people consider them as one community. But Garos are quite different from Khasis and Jaintias. Khasis and Garos speak very different languages. They communicate each other in English only ( Satpathy, 2009)

    The geography has also alienated them further. From Shillong, one has to pass through Assam in a roundabout manner to reach Tura.

    Culturally, both the communities are matrilineal yet differences persist in their customs and traditions. Similarly, Khasi, Jaintia and Garo areas are listed under the sixth schedule and have their own Autonomous District Councils. But their traditional political systems are different from one another, even in their nomenclatures – Khasis term it Syiemship, Jaintias term it Doloiship and Garos term it Nokmaship (Ibid.)

    Meghalaya’s electoral history for Legislative Assembly elections is marked by fractured mandates, coalition politics and very prominent role of regional political parties. These had indelible impact on Lok Sabha elections too. However from the very beginning of the Lok Sabha election in the state, Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) after its birth from the Congress have always had an edge over the regional parties. The Congress party and the NCP have acted as the major partners in different coalition formations in the state at various points of time in its electoral history and they have dominated parliamentary contest in their respective domains of influence in the state (Ibid.)

    The Shillong Lok Sabha Constituency is traditionally a Congress stronghold. Since statehood, non-congress candidates have won thrice only. National political parties other than the Congress do not have significant presence in this constituency. Meghalaya has favoured neither the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nor the Left parties. The NCP commanded some support in Shillong due to personal influence of P.A. Sangma (former Lok Sabha speaker). But the NCP, while it collaborates with the Congress at the centre, remains invariably the main competitor of the Congress party in Meghalaya. In Shillong constituency, it was part of a non-congress alliance against the congress candidate in the Lok Sabha elections (Ibid.)

    The Tura Lok Sabha constituency was traditionally a Congress stronghold till the formation of NCP out of Congress. Thereafter, it is a NCP stronghold till today. Contestants are limited to personal influences and not linked to party politics. P.A. Sangma has tremendous influences in this constituency and the party to which he belonged (at the time of elections) has invariably won the election. Traversing a political journey from the Congress to the NCP, to the BJP, to the Trinamool Congress and back to the NCP, Sangma’s influence has decided the electoral fate of the constituency in parliamentary elections with very little dwindling of support despite his party hopping. He has won from this seat nine times and his daughter Agatha Sangma, the youngest Member of Parliament (MP) and a former minister in United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, has won twice.

    As earlier mentioned, in Meghalaya, Lok Sabha election, for the first time, was held in 1977. Since then, till 2009, as a state in the Indian Union, it has seen altogether 10 Lok Sabha elections.

    This paper highlights mainly on the 14th general election 2004 and 15th general election 2009 in the state of Meghalaya.

2. Election to 14th Lok-Sabha

    The election to fourteenth Lok Sabha (which was ninth lok sabha election for Meghalaya) was held on 20th April, 2004 for the only parliamentary constituencies in the state, namely Shillong and Tura.

2.1 Shillong constituency

    The Shillong constituency includes Khasi Hills (East Khasi Hills District and West Khasi Hills District), Jaintia Hills and Ri-Bhoi District. In this constituency, in 2004, there were a total of 7, 85,062 registered electors out of which 3, 91,114 were male and 3, 93,948 female. But the voters’ turnout was 3, 67,795, that is 52.69% of the total number of registered voters, of which 1, 82,726 were male, 1, 85,010 female and 59postal voters. In this general election, a total of 4 candidates, all male, had filed their nominations. With one candidate’s nomination being rejected, finally, three candidates remained in the fray. The valid votes cast was 3, 67,780, only fifteen less than the total number of votes cast. There were 994 polling stations in this constituency that is in average 790 electors per polling station (Election Commission of India, 2004.) In this election, the congress party candidate had emerged victorious polling 51.6% of valid votes (Table-1). The candidate from another national party BJP finished last (third) polling only 15.92% of valid votes. The voters showing preference for independent candidate over BJP candidate is significant.

Table1: Performance of Different Political Parties in 2004 Lok Sabha Election from the Shillong constituency of Meghalaya.

Political Parties

Name Of the Candidates

Valid Votes

Polled

% out of total valid

votes polled

Indian National Congress

Paty Ripple Kyndiah(Male)

1,90,058

51.67%

Independent

S. Loniak Marbaniang (Male)

1,19,162

32.40%

BJP

Sansor Swell Lyngdoh (Male)

58,560

15.92%

 

Source: Election Commission of India - General Election, 2004 (14th LOK SABHA) Statistical Report–Volume I.

2.2 Tura Constituency

    Three districts of Garo Hills (East Garo Hills District,West Garo Hills District and South Garo Hills District) constitute Tura Constituency. In this constituency, in 2004, there were a total of 5, 04,312 registered electors, out of which 2, 57,540 were male and 2, 46,772 female. In the election, 61.77% of the total registered voters i.e. 3, 11,526 voters turned out to vote, but the number of valid votes cast was 3, 11,113. It was observed that the turnout of female voters (1, 92,115) was much higher than the male voters (1, 19,387). Voting took place in 588 polling booths that is in average 858 (ibid.) voters per polling booth voted. In this general election, only two, and both male, candidates had filed their nominations. Unlike the poll result of Shillong constituency, in this constituency result went against the Congress party (Table-2). The winner was Purno A Sangma, as a candidate of All India Trinamool Congress (AITC); a West Bengal based political party formed by a breakaway group from the Congress Party. It may be mentioned that Purno A Sangma was once a tall leader of the Congress Party in Meghalaya.

Table2: Performance of Different Political Parties in 2004 Lok Sabha Election from the Tura constituency of Meghalaya.

Political Parties

Name Of the Candidates

Valid Votes

Polled

% out of total valid

votes polled

AITC

Purno A. Sangma(Male)

1, 91,938

61.69%

Indian National Congress

Dr. Mukul Sangma(Male)

1, 19,175

38.30%

Source: Election Commission of India - General Election,2004 (14th LOK SABHA) Statistical Report–Volume I.

3. Election to 15th Lok-Sabha

    The election to fifteenth Lok Sabha (which was tenth lok sabha election for Meghalaya) was held on 16th April, 2009 for the only parliamentary constituencies in the state, namely Shillong and Tura.

3.1 Shillong constituency

    The composition of the constituency remained same as in 2004 election. But there were changes in the number of registered voters, gender composition of voters, percentage of voter’s turnout etc. There were a total of 7, 71,965 registered electors out of which 3, 74,713 were male and 3, 97,252 female. But the voters’ turnout was 4, 80,423, that is 62.23% of the total number of registered voters, of which 2, 27,813 were male, 2, 52,477 female and 133 postal voters. In this constituency, a total of 7 candidates, all male, were in fray. The valid votes cast was 4, 80,379, only forty-four less than the total number of votes cast. There were 1326 polling stations in this constituency that is in average 582 (Election Commission of India, 2009)electors per polling station. In this election, the congress party candidate had emerged victorious polling 48.35% of valid votes (Table-3). Significantly, as many as five political parties had fielded their candidates in this constituency. Unlike 2004 election, BJP did not field any candidate in this constituency. The regional parties did try their luck. But the voters showed their preference for congress over all the regional parties taken together. The regional parties UDP, HSPDP and MDP taken together polled 48.07% as against Congress candidate alone polling 48.35% of valid votes polled.

Table3: Performance of Different Political Parties in 2009 Lok Sabha Election from the Shillong constituency of Meghalaya.

Political Parties

Name Of the Candidates

Valid Votes

Polled

% out of total valid

votes polled

Indian National Congress

Vincent H. Pala(Male)

2, 32,270

48.35%

United Democratic Front

John Filmore Kharsing(Male)

1,24,402

25.89%

Hill State People’s

Democratic Party (HSPDP)

P.B.M.Basaiawmoit(Male)

97,613

20.32%

Meghalaya Democratic

Party(MDP)

Martle N. Mukhim(Male)

8,946

1.86%

Independent

Denis Siangshai(Male)

7,032

1.46%

C.P.I.

Dalington Dympep (Male)

6,802

1.41%

Independent

Tierod Passah(Male)

3,314

0.69%

Source: Election Commission of India - General Election, 2009 (15th LOK SABHA) Statistical Report–Volume I.

3.2 Tura Constituency

    The composition of this constituency remained same as it was in 2004. But there were changes in the number of registered voters, gender composition of voters, percentage of voter’s turnout etc. There were a total of 5, 05,774 registered electors, out of which 2, 54,723 were male and 2, 51,051 female. In the election, 67.66% of the total registered voters i.e. 3, 42,187 voters turned out to vote, and all their votes were valid. It was observed that the turnout of female voters (1, 63,446) was less than the male voters (1, 78,719). Voting took place in 791 polling booths that is in average 639 (ibid.) voters per polling booth voted. In this constituency, four candidates had filed their nominations out of which three were female candidates. Like in 2004 election, Congress Party lost in this constituency and its candidate Ms. Debora C. Marak had to taste defeat in the hands of NCP candidate Ms. Agatha K. Sangma daughter of Purno A Sangma. Ms. Marak polled 39.90% of valid votes; where as Ms. Sangma polled 45.14% (Table-4). Purno A Sangma who held this constituency as its MP in 2004 election, went to his daughter in 2009 election.

Table4: Performance of Different Political Parties in 2009 Lok Sabha Election from the Tura constituency of Meghalaya.

Political Parties

Name Of the Candidates

Valid Votes

Polled

% out of total valid

votes polled

NCP

Agatha K. Sangma(Female)

1, 54,476

45.14%

Indian National Congress

Debora C. Marak(Female)

1, 36, 531

39.90%

A-chik National

Congress(Democratic)

Boston Marak(Male)

40,204

11.75%

Independent

Arlene N. Sangma(Female)

10,976

3.20%

Source: Election Commission of India - General Election, 2009 (15th LOK SABHA) Statistical Report–Volume I.

4. Observations:

    It may be observed that in Shillong constituency, the number of registered voters had declined between 2004 and 2009 elections. While it was 785062 in 2004, it was 771965 in 2009. Significantly, such decline was largely due to the decline in male voters from 391114 to 374713, while there was an increase in the female voters from 393948 to 397252. It is quite clear that the number of registered female voters was always higher than the registered male voters during both these elections in this constituency and this difference was growing in favour of female voters. Though the number of registered voters had declined, the voters’ turnout had significantly increased from 367780 in 2004 to 480423 in 2009 that is from 52.69% to 62.23% of the registered voters in the respective years. Such increase in voters’ turn out despite the decline in the number of registered voters can be attributed to the increase in polling booths from 994 in 2004 to 1326 in 2009, and this increase, as it appears from the following observation, proved to be more favourable to female participation. In both these elections female participation was more than male participation and the difference grew larger. The number of males voted in 2004 election was 182726, which increased to 227813 in 2009, whereas the number of females voted in 2004 was 185010, which increased to 252477 in 2009; the difference grew from 2284 in 2004 to 24664 in 2009.

    But in Tura constituency the number of registered voters remained almost same or to say more accurately, showed a slight increase from 504312 in 2004 to 505774 in 2009. Unlike in Shillong constituency, the number of female registered voters in this constituency was less than the number of male registered voters during both the elections, though there was a decline in male registered voters from 257540 in 2004 to 254723 in 2009, whereas there was increase in female registered voters from 246772 to 251051. Further, unlike Shillong constituency, in this constituency of Tura, the difference between the male and female voters registered decline. Like Shillong constituency, the voters’ turn out in this constituency registered an increase from 311526 in 2004 to 342187 in 2009, that is, from 61.77% to 67.66% of the registered voters in the respective years. Such increase in voters’ turn out can be attributed to the increase in polling booths from 588 in 2004 to 791 in 2009, but such increase, unlike Shillong constituency, did not cause increase in female participation. In this context it may be remarked that between these two constituencies, the percentage of voters’ turn out was, in both the elections, considerably higher in Tura constituency than Shillong constituency. With regard to the participation of female voters, the scenario in this constituency significantly differs from the Shillong constituency. In 2004 election, the female participation was much higher than the male participation; 1, 92,115 female voters voted as against 1, 19, 387 male voters. In 2009, however, the participation reversed; 1, 63,446 female voters voted as against 1, 78,719 male voters. There was thus a decline in female participation compared to participation in 2004. It is an irony that in 2009 election, when three out of four contestants were females, the female participation declined and less than male participation.

    Though the Meghalaya society is a matrilineal society, only three female candidates, out of sixteen candidates who participated in the elections to 14th and 15th Lok Sabha from Shillong and Tura constituencies, exhibited ambition to be the makers of the law of the land and were in election fray in 2009. This is despite the fact that the female participation in both the elections in both the constituencies was quite impressive. It may easily be calculated out that in average 396524 female voters participated as against 354322 male voters in Meghalaya elections 2004 and 2009 taken together. It could be that the Meghalaya women are conscious of their franchise but are not interested in contesting the elections. One wonders if the decline in female voters in 2009 election in Tura constituency, where three out of four candidates were women, does not suggest Meghalaya women’s were not enthusiastic over women candidature in elections. It is however another matter that those women candidates in fray were from the political families of the State.

    From these two elections to 14th and 15th Lok Sabha in both the constituencies of Meghalaya, it may be remarked that regional parties of Meghalaya only appeared in 15th Lok Sabha election but could not upset the outcome though as stated earlier they in Shillong Constituency together polled votes (48.07%) slightly less than the winning Congress candidate, who polled alone 48.35% of votes. It could be that unity amongst the regional parties has the potential to upset the national party, here Congress. Unlike Shillong constituency, in Tura Constituency, there was no presence of multiple regional parties. The only such party was A-chik National Congress (Democratic), represented by a male candidate, could garner 11.75% of votes, which if were available to the Indian National Congress, would have brought victory for the Congress candidate as the combined percentage (51.65%) would have exceeded the percentage of votes (45.14%) that the winner Agatha K. Sangma had garnered. It is significant to observe that the representation of Tura Constituency remained with Purno Sangma’s family for two consecutive terms, irrespective of the parties to which the winners belonged, though there was a sharp decline in the percentage of votes garnered; in 2004 election Purno A Sangma (representing AITC) had secured 61.69% of votes whereas in 2009 election her daughter Agatha K. Sangma (representing NCP) secured only 45.14% of votes. The representation of Shillong constituency, however, remained with the Indian National Congress though the percentage of votes garnered declined; in 2004 election it was 51.67% in a three-corner fight, which declined in 2009 to 48.35% albeit in a seven-corner fight. In both the elections, in both the constituencies, independent candidates were in the election fray except in Tura constituency in 2004 election. Except in 2004 election in Shillong constituency, never the independent candidates could secure double-digit percentage of votes. Thus the results of these two Lok Sabha elections in 2004 and 2009 clearly show that the representations of the two Lok Sabha constituencies of Meghalaya were divided between the Indian National Congress and former Congress leader Purno A Sangma’s family. Had Purno A Sangma continued with the Indian National Congress, the representation of Tura constituency would have been also with Indian National Congress. The Indian National Congress appears to be a more preferred party for Meghalaya electorates than any other political party, be that a regional party or a national party. It could be due to its history of being a secular party, which does not discriminate on the basis of one’s caste, creed, religion or ethnicity, whereas the regional parties divided on the lines of religion and ethnicity were felt discriminatory. Notwithstanding the electoral performance witnessed in the elections to 14th and 15th Lok Sabhas, the universal allegations of the use of money and muscle power were also heard in this small state of Meghalaya. The allegation was also in air that the candidates in the election fray had taken the help of insurgent groups while fighting election. Another aspect that is observed is the irrelevance of the election manifestoes distributed by the contesting political parties and candidates. The common voters hardly read the manifestoes before they cast their votes, whereas the educated ones, who could read, hardly believe the promises made would ever be fulfilled. Thus the election manifestoes hardly influenced the electoral outcomes in 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Meghalaya.

5. Conclusion:

    Meghalaya though a small state and relatively new, it is quite encouraging to find its residents increasingly participating in exercising their franchise. They, in majority, have shown preference towards Congress Party in exclusion to the regional and other national parties. It is significant particularly when in many larger states regional parties and non-congress national parties are voted to power. Further the growing participation in elections of Meghalaya electorate and demonstration of their preference towards Congress party, suggest that the insurgency activities have neither succeeded in arresting the people’s participation in electoral process, nor succeeded in weaning the voters from the Congress party that stands for the integrity of India. If such participation in electoral process continues to increase, it will definitely be a positive and effective mechanism to wipe off the problems of insurgency and the anti-national secessionist elements in the state of Meghalaya.

References