We May Go For A Post-poll Alliance With Like-Minded Parties: Conrad Sangma

Rooting for the second term, Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma, the son of former chief minister and Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma, talks to Outlook on the eve of the state elections

We May Go For A Post-poll Alliance With Like-Minded Parties: Conrad Sangma

The man at the helms of affairs in Meghalaya does not need an intro­duction. Conrad Sangma, the son of former chief minister and Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma, catapulted himself to the highest post when he pulled off a coup of sorts, garnering the support of 32 legislators, including 20 of his National People’s Party (NPP), regional parties and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after the 2018 assembly elections, to form the government. Rooting for the second term, he spoke to Syeda Ambia Zahan during his election campaign. Some excerpts.

Do you see the lagging economy of the region as a bottleneck leading to a demand for more autonomy from certain parts of the regions, including the demand for separate Garo and Khasi land?

The overall economy of the smaller states dep­ends on the Finance Commission’s recommendation, central share and taxes and, of course, to a large extent, on the central schemes. Most states don’t have their own sources of revenue, even the GST (Goods and Services Tax). Revenue is not as high as other more populated states. Obviously, it is an issue and definitely, as you mentioned, the reason behind the demand for separate states. These things come up because people strongly feel that asking for a separate state is one of the ways in which development can come in. This is what the perception of the people is. That is why they demand it. Therefore, yes, economic conditions and situations do lead to such kinds of demands from people and, yes, it is a genuine demand because people need development.

How do you plan to better the economy of the state if voted in for the second term?

Obviously, we have to increase the revenue of the state. The way towards this depends on each of the resources that are there and these need to be enhanced. For a state like Meghalaya, a large amount of our revenue came from royalty collections from coal mining, for example. Now, that was affected because of the NGT ban. We have managed to lift it through a Supreme Court order. But then mining could not resume effectively because of the scientific process required by the Supreme Court. So, we will have to work towards ensuring that scientific mining processes are moved faster, which is happening, as we speak. We expect that as scientific mining starts in the state, revenue will increase. We strongly feel that overall revenue in terms of excise will increase much more. It has, in fact, gone up a lot in the last five years. Another area is revenue from transportation. Overall, revenue in terms of GST will go up once economic activities go up. So, tourism will be an important sector. These are some of the areas on which we can focus for growth. Of course, there are many more sectors.

What are the challenges ahead of you after the Trinamool Con­g­r­ess’s (TMC’s) entry into state politics with some pro­m­inent leaders from the Congress joining the TMC?

We have always maintained that in politics you can never take things for granted. For us, every opponent is a strong opponent. So, yes, we will definitely work hard to ensure that we are able to fight the TMC and not take them lightly. But having said that, the TMC is a faction of the Congress and they were once a strong opposition. But then the Congress has broken down into several factions. The TMC is one fraction of the larger Opposition which was the Congress. People also obviously notice this and realise that they need to be with a party which is able to form government and hence the support for the opposition parties goes down.

Giving permission to hold an election rally is not something I am authorised to do. It is the Election Commission and the district admin which decide on that.

The TMC, as a party, does not have that kind of appeal in Meghalaya and hence it will not be so easy to sell the TMC brand in our state. It is a very new party and one whose ideology is not something that is easily acceptable in Meghalaya. Hence, it is a broken and fractured Opposition.

Has the border deal with Assam gone against the aspirations of the people of Meghalaya. Can it hamper the party’s vote bank in this election?

No. On the contrary, the MoU (Memorandum of Understand­ing) and the entire border agreement that we have is something that the people of the state are extremely happy about. Finally, people are feeling that there is a government and a party that is serious about resolving this long-pending issue. So, there is confidence in people’s minds. If you actually go to Ground Zero and meet the people of those areas where we have resolved this issue, you will find that they are extremely happy. And in those disputed areas where the border issue is to be solved in the second phase, people  are extremely hopeful about it. Now, there are one or two people who have spoken about it in different ways. There will always be people who would be criticising us, but that should not take us away from our goal. There is never a perfect solution, but we have got the best possible solution.

There is talk about your government being behind the denial of permission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold an election rally in the state. How confident are you about your own campaign this time and about mass support since you are fighting alone?

Giving permission to hold an election rally is not something I am authorised to do. It is the Election Commission and the district administration which decide on that. This allegation that I have tried to stop the rally is baseless. I was also denied permission for many of my rallies. I am very confident about the way the NPP’s campaign is going. We are seeing huge footfall in every election rally. We are trying to reach out to as many people as we can. So, we don’t need to stop others from campaigning in order to strengthen our vote base.


The BJP withdrew support from your MDA government. How likely is it to go for a post-poll alliance this time with the same party? Or, are you in talks with like-minded regional parties?

Right now I am not in talks with any political party. It will be decided after election results. We may go for a post-poll allaince with parties which share the same ideology as the NPP.

(This appeared in the print edition as ‘We May Go for A Post-poll Alliance’)