Meghalaya now has two Chief Ministers: veteran Congress leader D D Lapang and the party’s state unit chief Friday Lyngdoh.
And this has been made official by a formal government notification, not without a catch though – while Lapang is the chief minister with statutory authority vested in him, Friday Lyngdoh would simply enjoy the status and benefits of a chief minister without real power.
Lyngdoh was earlier the deputy chief minister in the 12-member council of ministers led by Lapang and continued to enjoy the status even afterwards.
“The rank and status of Lyngdoh has been upgraded from the rank of deputy chief minister to that of chief minister. He shall continue to function as political advisor to the Chief Minister,” the official notification read.
The political move to elevate Lyngdoh’s status is seen as an attempt to quell any form of threat to the shaky Congress government. Recent reports said that Lyngdoh, along with seven other ruling party legislators, led a rebellion and even met senior central Congress party leaders in New Delhi demanding ministerial berths.
Technically speaking, Lyngdoh would simply enjoy the status of a chief minister with fringe benefits like security, perks and incentives, besides protocol as applicable to a chief minister.
“Lapang is the real chief minister, while Lyngdoh is chief minister without any power. It is a face-saving exercise and aimed at soothing an inflated ego of Lyngdoh who tried to engineer some dissidence,” a senior Meghalaya minister loyal to Lapang told IANS, requesting not to be named.
Instability marks politics in Meghalaya – the state has already seen three governments since the March 2008 elections, a situation characteristic of the mountainous northeastern state known for hop-skip-and-jump politics with legislators switching loyalties at the drop of a hat.
After the March 2008 assembly elections, Lapang was sworn-in chief minister of a Congress-led coalition government although he resigned 10 days later ahead of a scheduled trust vote, having failed to muster majority support.
Soon after, the NCP managed a deal with United Democratic Party (UDP) leader Donkupar Roy and formed the Meghalaya Progressive Alliance (MPA) led government in March 2008.
Barely 11 months down the line, Donkupar Roy’s MPA government was dismissed and president’s rule imposed in March 2009 following mounting political uncertainty after five legislators supporting the ruling government announced their decision to back the Congress, which was then in opposition in the state.
After two months of central rule, Lapang was sworn in chief minister of the Meghalaya United Alliance (MUA) coalition government with the UDP, a regional party, backing the hotch-potch coalition.
“In Meghalaya everything is possible. You are with one party at lunch, have dinner with a different party and are with a third party for breakfast. That is why there is so much instability in the state,” said A. Lyngdoh, a tribal community leader.
In the present 60-member legislature, the Congress has 28 legislators and enjoys the support of 10 UDP members.
The NCP, the main opposition, has 15 legislators.
Political instability is the hallmark of Meghalaya – the state has seen nine different governments with varied combinations of political parties, resulting in eight chief ministers between 1998 and 2009.
There were just two occasions when a chief minister was able to complete the full five-year term since Meghalaya attained statehood in 1972.