Shillong, Nov 25 (IANS) Meghalaya opposition leader Mukul Sangma, who along with 11 Congress MLAs joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) on Wednesday night, said on Thursday that the Congress has failed as an effective opposition in the country and the TMC would be a pan-India viable alternative opposition party.
Reliable sources said that political strategist Prashant Kishor and his team members, who have been camping in Shillong for the past two months, apparently engineered the defections.
Two West Bengal ministers and senior Trinamool leaders, Moloy Ghatak and Manas Bhunia, reached here on Thursday afternoon and held a meeting with the MLAs led by Sangma.
Ghatak and Bhunia greeted the newcomers and handed over TMC flags to Sangma and others at a simple ceremony.
State Congress President and Lok Sabha Member Vincent H. Pala said in Shillong that the desertion of the 12 MLAs is not a setback for the party, it is a new challenge and the Congress leaders know how to face the challenge.
Sangma, a former Chief Minister of Meghalaya (2010-2018), said that their potential was not exploited fully by the Congress and they were unable to be an effective opposition party in Meghalaya. "To be an effective opposition party and to serve the people as per their wishes we have joined the Trinamool Congress. Our commitment towards the people remained unfulfilled despite our meeting the central leadership on a number of occasions," Sangma accompanied by the 11 MLAs told the media in Shillong.
The 56-year-old leader said that in the 2018 assembly polls, the Congress by securing 21 seats (in the 60 member assembly) became the single largest party but unfortunately it could not form the government. Sangma along with the other MLAs on Thursday met assembly speaker Metbah Lyngdoh and lay claim to being recognised as the main opposition party.
The Speaker later said that he would have to examine the procedures about Sangma and the other MLAs' claims as per the provisions of the Tenth Schedule. The 12 MLAs who joined the TMC include four legislators from the Khasi-Jaintia Hills region and eight MLAs from Garo Hills.
The 12 MLAs are Mukul Sangma (Songsak), Charles Pyngrope (Nongthymmai), Himalaya Shangpliang (Mawsynram), George B Lyngdoh (Umroi), Shitlang Pale (Sutnga-Saipung), Dikkanchi D Shira (Mahendraganj), Miani D Shira (Ampati), Zenith Sangma (Rangsakona), Marthon J Sangma (Mendipathar), Jimmy D Sangma (Tikrikilla), Winnerson D Sangma (Salmanpara) and Lazarus M Sangma (Chokpot). The strength of the Congress, which was the main opposition party in the assembly since the 2018 polls, has now been reduced to five as other MLAs have either died or left the party.
Sangma, a physician turned politician, was upset over the appointment of Shillong Lok Sabha Member Vincent H. Pala as the state Congress President in September. He reportedly met Trinamool's National General Secretary Abhishek Banerjee in Kolkata last month triggering speculation amid a reported rift within the Congress in the northeastern state. Sangma had termed it as a courtesy meeting.
With the latest development, a triangular contest is in the offing in the 2023 assembly elections between the ruling National People's Party (NPP) led Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) in which the two-member Bharatiya Janata Party is an ally, the Congress and the TMC.
The latest political development in the northeast state is a major boost for West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee, who after the March-April assembly election success in her state, has been trying to expand her party's footprint beyond Bengal. Meghalaya is the newest state as Bengal's ruling party in its expansion mission mainly at the expense of the Congress, has made inroads in Tripura, Goa, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana.