Sanbor Shullai

SHILLONG:

First-time candidates Venetia Pearl Mawlong, Ian A Lyngdoh and Angela Rangad, respectively from Congress, Trinamool Congress and KAM, have a fight on their hands as they prepare to take on three-time winner and incumbent legislator representing the South Shillong constituency Sanbor Shullai.

Shullai has built himself a reputation of a ‘people’s man’, and remains popular at the grassroots. A veteran of politics, Shullai managed to retain his seat in East Khasi Hills despite switching his loyalty to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from the Nationalist Congress Party, which had sacked him from his position as Meghalaya state president in 2017.

Rangad, well-known social activist, believes her underdog status in politics will work in her favour.

“My biggest challenge to Sanbor Shullai is that I am not a ‘traditional’ politician who believes in vote banks, middlemen, money, muscle power and cheap patronage. The way I have been campaigning, meeting each and every family, discussing issues and their solutions, and being open about my personal and political life has truly challenged the politics as usual,” she says.

Ian A Lyngodh, who was a bureaucrat, joined the Trinamool Congress because he believes it is yet untainted in the state, a new party and supportive of people-friendly policies and schemes.

“The party is an epitome of courage and guts: It is  being led by one frail woman (referring to Mamata Banerjee) in slippers, who dismantled a 30-year-old regime of the Left and is indeed admirable,” he says.

Rangad and Lyngdoh both criticised Shullai’s overconfidence, and accuse him of having neglected the people of the South Shillong constituency.

Lyngdoh said, “There is an anti-incumbency factor against him. He is overconfident and that will be his downfall. He just has been lucky; he never had a worthy opposition to take him on.”

Rangad shared a similar opinion: “Approachability does not only mean shaking hands or shaking your hips – approachability is different from being like a feudal lord who arbitrarily decides who to meet or meeting as a form of transaction”.

“Approachability means being accountable, having open houses and locality offices where everyone can come as citizens to question the MLA’s actions and fully participate. He has not given any accounts for fifteen years and that too in a constituency where (Thrang Hok) Rangad was the first to start this process of giving reports on work done,” she said.

Lyngdoh also accused Shullai of following the old ‘divide and rule’ playbook, noting that BJP is “known to create polarisation”.

“You know what they are doing in the entire country – breaking churches and vandalising mosques. Shullai does not have any ideology. He is a pragmatic politician who only appeases the poor section of the society in order to garner votes”, added Lyngdoh.

Notably, Rangad is the niece of Thrang Hok, who once represented Laban constituency as a BJP legislator, far before the party’s current image gained popularity.

Rangad said, “Unlike the MLA who represents the BJP now, my uncle was always non-partisan towards communities. He also challenged fear that was being created by fringe elements through concrete actions, and I too am similar in that sense – that I fear no one and have always stood up against bullies and also stood alone against government, if need be, and this is what I will continue to do to ensure safety, security, justice and peace”.

Shullai refused to respond to any of the accusations and criticism, noting that it was the norm to “find a point to fight about” during elections. “I will let the people of 19-South Shillong answer,” he said.