Tura/Agartala, June 30: Congress in Meghalaya and CPM in Tripura today won the Assembly by-elections held on June 27. The Congress regained the Chokpot seat in Meghalaya after 20 years while the CPM swept its traditional strongholds Pratapgarh and Surma in Tripura.
Congress candidate Bluebell Sangma won the Chokpot seat by defeating her nearest rival Philipole Marak of the National Peoples’ Party (NPP) by 2,550 votes. Bluebell secured 8,042 votes.
The Chokpot seat in South Garo Hills district fell vacant after the demise of lone Garo National Council (GNC) legislator Clifford Marak on March 27. His wife Kalpana Marak, who contested the seat on GNC ticket, secured 5,009 votes. Independent candidate Thinkerwin Marak secured 1,189 votes.
In the 2013 Assembly election, Bluebell had contested the seat on Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) ticket. She is the wife of former minister Masonsing Sangma, who had won Chokpot in 1993 as a Congress candidate. Masongsing, a Purno Sangma loyalist, had later shifted to the NCP and then joined the NPP. He died just ahead of the 2013 Assembly election.
Bluebell’s win increases the Congress’s tally in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly to 30 seats. The Chokpot bypoll was seen as a test for the Congress ahead of the district council election in Garo hills.
“I thank the people of Chokpot constituency for giving me the mandate. I assure them that I will look into their issues. I will work for peace and development,” Bluebell said over phone from Baghmara.
She also thanked chief minister Mukul Sangma and other party leaders and workers, saying their constant support and motivation had won her the election.
The Meghalaya chief minister termed the victory as a great day for the Congress and for Chokpot. “I convey my heartiest congratulation to the people and party cadres at the grassroots. Their unified efforts motivated the people and the result is demonstration of faith. The people have accepted the development agenda of the government,” he said.
Deborah Marak, social welfare minister and working president of the state Congress, said, “The victory of the Congress is a result of peoples’ willingness for change.”
She assured the people that the party would live up to their expectations. “The people of Chokpot have seen backwardness for years. The economic condition, coupled with insurgency, has made their lives difficult. The onus will be on the government to resolve their long-pending problems and demands.”
Of the 24 Assembly seats from the Garo Hills, the Congress now has 14. The House now has five women legislators – all from the Congress – three of whom are cabinet ministers in the Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) government.
Meghalaya Youth Congress president Richard Marak said, “The people wanted change and development and they have made their choice and won. The victory is Chokpot’s victory. We look forward to working with the youth of the region towards creating a brighter and productive future.”
In the last 15 years, candidates who had won from Chokpot had always been in the opposition. The byelection campaign was fought on the issue of development. In every election, the Congress had assured Chokpot that the party was committed to an overall holistic development of the state.
Congress workers across Garo hills erupted in joy soon after the results were announced at Baghmara, the district headquarters of South Garo Hills, around 10.10am.
Bluebell was present at Baghmara Congress Bhawan as the celebrations erupted. After collecting her winning papers from the returning officer of Chokpot bypoll, Tangseng Momin, she headed for her constituency to thank the people.
National Peoples’ Party (NPP) chief and former Chief Minister Purno Sangma said the Congress had used all its machinery, manpower and money to win the bypoll. Asked if the debacle was a blow to the party and its ground in Garo hills, he said, “Not at all”.
Asked why the Opposition had not fielded a consensus candidate, Sangma, who had extended his support to the NPP a few months ahead of the death of GNC’s Clifford Marak, said. “We wanted Kalpana Marak (Clifford’s wife) to contest on our party ticket but she decided to go ahead with the GNC.”
While the CPM earned runaway wins in the twin by-elections (both the seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes), the Congress suffered the ignominy of losing its security deposits in both the seats and the BJP emerged as the second party reflecting changing political equations in Tripura.
Since the counting of ballots commenced, CPM candidates Ramu Das, 35, in Pratapgarh constituency of West Tripura and Anjan Das, 43, in Surma constituency of Dhalai district led massively.
In Pratapgarh, Ramu Das, who secured 27,555 votes, defeated his nearest BJP rival Mousumi Das polled 10,229 votes. Congress candidate Ranjit Das lost his security deposit by securing only 5,187 votes.
In Surma, Anjan Das secured 23,275 votes, his nearest BJP rival Asish Das polled 7966 votes. Congress candidate Nagendra Chandra Biswas secured 2,528 votes, losing his security deposit.
In 2013, the CPM had won Pratapgarh by only 2,132 votes and Surma by only 1,862 votes. The BJP had not contested the Pratapgarh seat that year because of “organisational weakness” while in Surma the party could secure only 415 votes.
CPM central committee member Gautam Das said, “It is good that the Congress has paid for its campaign of calumny against the Left Front and particularly against chief minister Manik Sarkar. But the matter of concern is that the communal, pro-corporate and anti-poor BJP has moved ahead.”
Former Congress MLA and party spokesperson Tapas De, however, blamed the party’s state leadership for the debacle. “The writing on the wall had always been clear because fighting by-elections against an organised ruling party like the CPM is always difficult. But our leaders went to Delhi to agitate on a flimsy, backdated issue, leaving the bypoll candidates in the lurch. So this was expected,” De said.
Tripura BJP president Sudheendra Dasgupta said he was expecting better results but expressed satisfaction over the relegation of the Congress to third position.
“We have surged far ahead over the past two years and we expect to put up a strong political challenge to the CPM in the 2018 Assembly polls,” he said.