Congress president Rahul Gandhi has affirmed that the party would safeguard cultures, traditions and way of thinking of people in Meghalaya where elections are due on February 27. But Meghalaya is a tricky state with a highly volatile political climate, and fickle voters, where thumping majorities are hard to come by.
“We are going to work with you, defend your languages and tribal customs because we are proud of them and we are convinced that without customs, cultures and languages, India will be weakened,” he told party workers in Jowai, 66 km east from state capital Shillong.
Gandhi, who began a two-day visit to the state on Tuesday, repeated the same promise in his interactions later in the evening in Shillong where the party organised a Celebration of Peace concert showcasing the state’s diverse cultures.
His statement comes against the backdrop of the Centre’s proposed ban on sale and purchase of cattle from animal markets for slaughter that led to a big debate in Meghalaya last year. Two district presidents of BJP had resigned over the issue.
Despite assurances from the BJP’s top brass that it would not impose any restrictions on food habits of people in Meghalaya, a section of voters remains suspicious of the saffron party imposing ban on beef consumption if it comes to power.
According to the 2011 census, 86% of Meghalaya’s total population comprises scheduled tribes. Beef is an important part of the diet in the state where nearly 75% people are Christians.
The Congress chief also took on the BJP for its pre-poll sop of offering Rs 70 crore to churches and religious institutions in the state. The BJP is making a serious bid to capture power in the 60-member assembly, but Gandhi insisted that the people of Meghalaya can’t be bought.
“I was very sad to hear that BJP offered money to our churches in what I consider to be a huge sum to the people of Meghalaya and the churches. There is no price, there is no amount of money that can buy the people of Meghalaya,” Gandhi said.
Meghalaya is one of the four states in the country where Congress is in power. Mizoram, another Christian majority state which goes to polls later this year, is the second state in the region where the party is ruling.
In recent weeks, Congress has lost seven of its MLAs — five of them to National People’s Party, one to BJP and another to a regional outfit — severely hurting its prospects of retaining power.
But Gandhi told party workers that while BJP and NPP might be able to lure away a few leaders, it won’t affect the ruling party’s chances of winning.
An ally of the NDA government at Centre and coalition partner of BJP-led government in Manipur, NPP has decided to contest Meghalaya polls alone—keeping doors open for a post poll alliance with the BJP.
One of the five states and Union Territories under Congress rule at present, Meghalaya goes to the polls on February 27. Counting of votes will be held on March 3.