Ex-MLA’s exit blows lid off revolt brewing in Meghalaya BJP

New Delhi: A revolt brewing within the Meghalaya unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to the fore Wednesday with the resignation of former legislator H.M. Shangpliang, barely days after the party’s central leadership directed Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma — BJP’s point person in the Northeast — to keep his flock together. 

Having given up primary membership of the BJP, Shangpliang, a retired IAS officer and former MLA from Mawsynram in East Khasi Hills district, announced Thursday that he would join Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP), which is the leading constituent in the ruling Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA), on 13 September.

In his resignation letter to Meghalaya BJP chief Ernest Mawrie, Shangpliang ascribed his decision to “growing nepotism” within the party’s state unit under Mawrie’s leadership and accused him of hampering the party’s electoral prospects in the state.

“As long as nepotism prevails within the rank and file of the state BJP under the leadership of the president (Mawrie), it will hinder all possible steps of dedicated and loyal party men to freely exercise their minds and grow within the party,” he wrote.

Shangpliang added that he repeatedly conveyed to Mawrie issues pertaining to the growth of the BJP in Meghalaya, “particularly in the rural areas”, and had suggested measures, keeping in mind the “debacle the party faced in the recently-concluded” assembly polls.

In the assembly polls held in February this year, the BJP won only two seats despite contesting all 60 — no change from its tally in the previous assembly polls. Its vote share in the state, however, declined to 9.17 percent from 9.63 percent in 2018. Shangpliang lost his own seat of Mawsynram to Ollan Singh Suin of the United Democratic Party (UDP).

Shangpliang, earlier with the Congress and then the Trinamool Congress (TMC), had joined the BJP last December.

Speaking to ThePrint over the phone Wednesday, Shangpliang reiterated that he had been asking for “corrective steps” to be taken after the “poll debacle” but the state BJP chief “did not pay heed” to his suggestions.

MLA Alexander Laloo Hek, the BJP’s lone minister in the MDA government, too accused Mawrie of making decisions unilaterally without taking his party colleagues into confidence.

“Many party leaders have complained about the president’s (Mawrie’s) unilateral approach. He does not listen to others; that is why resentment is growing within the party. I have communicated our feelings to the central leadership and sought their intervention,” he said.

Hek, who is also a member of the BJP’s national executive, also told ThePrint that there is an “urgent need to call a meeting to discuss these issues”.

On his part, Ernest Mawrie, who took over as president of the Meghalaya BJP in January 2020, refuted the allegations levelled against him by his party colleagues and insisted that it was Shangpliang who was indulging in nepotism by requesting the party to appoint his brother as president of the mandal in Mawsynram.

Addressing the media Wednesday, Mawrie denied that there was any infighting with the state unit of the BJP. He added that as president of the party’s state unit, he cannot make any independent decisions and has to follow the directions of the BJP’s central leadership.

He also said that Shangpliang approached him with a request for a ticket to contest the general elections due next year, and asked that the party convince its allies in the state — CM Sangma’s NPP, among others — to prop him up as a common candidate.

“He (Shangpliang) had different expectations from the party. He was asking for a Lok Sabha ticket. I told him that I would forward his request (to the high command), but he insisted on being declared a unanimous candidate. How is that possible? We can’t convince our allies. That was the main reason behind his revolt,” Mawrie told ThePrint.

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‘NPP sending feelers to BJP workers’

Shedding light on the “bitterness” between Shangpliang and Mawrie, a senior leader of the Meghalaya BJP pointed out that Mawrie’s wife Matilda Kharbuki was last month appointed a general secretary of the Meghalaya BJP Mahila Morcha (women’s wing).

“This is a classic case of nepotism. A few members appointed as functionaries of the state BJP are close to him (Mawrie) and were given the posts for him to tighten his grip on the party’s state unit. At the same time, requests by others were ignored and those who were contenders for the post of state BJP president were sidelined,” the leader told ThePrint.

However, state BJP general secretary George Clarence Nongbet said Mawrie’s wife Matilda Kharbuki has been associated with the party for a long time and deserves the post. “No other member of the president’s (Mawrie’s) family is in the party. He (Shangpliang) is making the allegations only to tarnish the party’s image,” said Nongbet, who was among the two leaders appointed general secretaries of the state BJP by Mawrie last September.

Nongbet added, “His (Shangpliang’s) expectations were not met and so he is now making allegations. How can the state party president promise him a ticket without consulting the central leadership? How can we promise on behalf of our allies? That is the main issue.”

A general secretary of the Meghalaya BJP, meanwhile, revealed that NPP, which is a member of the BJP-led NDA, has been “sending feelers to BJP workers” in the state.

“They (NPP) are making every effort to restrict BJP’s growth in the state. Even booth workers (of the BJP) have been approached in several districts. In this case, the NPP sent feelers to him (Shangpliang) and he accepted,” said the BJP leader.

Shangpliang, who is also an adviser to the state government’s education department, is the second senior BJP leader in the Northeast to part ways with the party in recent months.

His exit was preceded by that of R. Vanramchhuanga, who stepped down as a vice president of the Mizoram BJP on 13 July after accusing party colleague and Manipur chief minister N. Biren Singh, along with Union Home minister Amit Shah, of ‘having failed to protect Christians’ in the neighbouring state, where ethnic violence broke out in May.

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

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