Congress rushes trio to Shillong as Meghalaya votes hung house

Congress rushes trio to Shillong as Meghalaya votes hung house

Keen to avoid a repeat of Manipur and Goa, the Congress on Saturday rushed senior leaders Ahmed Patel, Kamal Nath and Mukul Wasnik to Meghalaya which has thrown up a hung Assembly.

Regional parties such as the United Democratic Party (UDP), the Hill State People's Democratic Party (HSPDP), the People's Democratic Front (PDF) along with independent MLAs hold the key to power in Meghalaya where the Congress is looking at a third term in office.

Patel, Nath and Wasnik will be engaged in a battle of wits with BJP's Himanta Biswa Sarma in winning the support of regional parties. The task is cut out for Congress leaders - make swift moves to win support and avoid a repeat of Manipur and Goa, where the BJP formed the government with regional outfits despite the Congress emerging as the single-largest party.

The Congress emerged as the single-largest party in Meghalaya having won 21 seats, but rival National People's Party (NPP), founded by late P A Sangma, was snapping close at its heels with 19 seats in the kitty. The UDP had won six seats, the HSPDP two and the PDF four. The BJP won two seats.

"We are confident we will be able to form government in Meghalaya," Patel said on reaching Shillong. Nath was also dismissive of the challenge posed by former Congressman Sarma, who is now the BJP pointsman for the entire North-east.

Late into the evening, the Congress leaders were huddled in a series of meetings with state leaders and were expected to elect their legislature party leader on Sunday.

Wasnik indicated that the Congress would meet Governor Ganga Prasad on Sunday and stake claim to form government.

BJP's Himanta Biswa Sarma was also in Shillong to get a sense of the situation. In Delhi, BJP President Amit Shah stopped short of declaring that the party would form government in Meghalaya. "The Congress does not have the mandate," was the refrain of Shah and other BJP leaders.

The Congress has been in power in Meghalaya since 2003 barring a year-long rule by the United Democratic Party in 2008-09. Chief Minister Mukul Sangma has strengthened his hold on the Congress during his nearly eight years in office.

Sangma had successfully weathered the challenges posed by defection of seven Congress MLAs to the BJP last year. His negotiation skills, along with support from party veterans Patel and Nath, will be put to test over the next few days.

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