VPP: Know this new political force in Meghalaya

VPP: Know this new political force in Meghalaya

The Voice of the People Party (VPP) has won the Shillong parliamentary seat, making a significant mark in Meghalaya's political landscape. The party's recent activities and strategies are now under the spotlight.

VPP: Know this new political force in Meghalaya VPP: Know this new political force in Meghalaya

The recent victory of the Voice of the People Party (VPP) in the Shillong parliamentary seat has evoked a lot of buzz amongst the social and political sphere alike.

Challenging many veterans to secure a victory with a huge margin, the limelight that the VPP has gained has prompted questions about how the party leveraged anti-incumbency sentiments to gain such widespread support and what the future pathway is for the party.

Tracing the Origins

The VPP took shape on October 5, 2021, when self-proclaimed regionalist Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit, a former Federation of Khasi Jaintia & Garo people (FKJGP) president and also an ex-president of the Hill State People Democratic Party (HSPDP), announced his anti-corruption agenda and his challenge to established political forces of the region.

Basaiawmoit, cited the failure of existing parties to address the state’s pressing issues as the main reason for launching the VPP. 

He was joined by a diverse group of professionals, including Dr Kara H Shen, Dr Ricky AJ Syngkon (a former NEHU professor) and Dr Batskhem Myrboh among others, who formed the party’s ad-hoc committee.

On November 19, 2021, VPP was formally launched, with Basaiawmoit reaffirming his agenda and expressing concerns over the influence of money and businessmen in elections.

VPP’s Electoral Entry in Meghalaya

While many wrote off the party at the advent, VPP made a dramatic entry into Meghalaya’s electoral scene, contesting 18 constituencies in the 2023 Legislative Assembly elections. 

Contesting on the party symbol of ‘U Prah’ — a traditional winnowing basket with local significance — Basaiawmoit explained that the symbol represents the party’s commitment to separating corruption from the state, much like the basket separates rice from its husk.

The party secured four seats with a convincing margin, and in most of them, defeating established political names.

In Mawryngkneng, Heaving Stone Kharpran defeated veteran Dr OS Jyrwa of the United Democratic Party (UDP) by 1,242 votes. In North Shillong, Adelbert Nongrum secured 5,583 votes, defeating his closest rival, M Kharkrang of the BJP, by 1,033 votes.

In Mawlai, first-time candidate Brightstarwell Marbaniang delivered a significant blow, winning against the sitting Member of District Council (MDC) Teibor Pathaw of the National People’s Party (NPP) by an impressive 15,648 votes. 

Pathaw’s defeat was compounded by the relegation of PT Sawkmie of the UDP, who had won the 2018 polls from Mawlai on an Indian National Congress (INC) ticket, to a distant third place.

The party also gave tough fights in some seats, especially in Mylliem, where Ronnie V Lyngdoh of Congress narrowly edged out his VPP rival Aibandaplin Lyngdoh by just 38 votes.

After opening their account in their very first election, in April 2023, the Election Commission of India (ECI) recognised VPP as a state party in Meghalaya, acknowledging the party had fulfilled the necessary criteria.

Amidst the statistics and fight for numbers, what also made an impact was VPP’s campaign song, resonating with people across age groups. The song’s catchy tune and lyrics spoke about a fresh political narrative for everyone across different classes and sections, and stood out significantly throughout the election campaigns.

The State Reservation Saga

When the state government refused to discuss the contentious reservation policy, focusing solely on the roster system, VPP president and Nongkrem legislator Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit staged an indefinite hunger strike on May 23, 2023.

Basaiawmoit’s protest, while it found widespread support across the Khasi Hills region, gauged mixed reactions across the state, especially in the Garo Hills as the VPP had proposed reduction in the reservation from that region.

Initially, VPP refused to participate in the government-constituted committee but eventually agreed after the terms of reference were expanded to include discussions on the State Job Reservation Policy. 

Basaiawmoit ended his hunger strike on June 1, 2023, after the government notified the formation of an Expert Committee to study the policy.

Critics, however, have recently pointed out that while VPP’s propaganda around Basaiawmoit’s hunger strike helped massively boost the party’s popularity, especially through social media, the core demand of overhauling the reservation policy remains unfulfilled over a year later. They allege the emotive issue was used more to stir up public sentiments and gain political mileage rather than a genuine reform drive. The high-profile protest is seen as symbolising the VPP’s tendency to prioritise rallying public excitement over substantive policy work.

Though it helped the fledgling party win a shock Lok Sabha seat, the original stated goals behind the agitation are largely unmet, raising questions if the VPP’s confrontational approach aims more at mobilising mass support than effecting real change.

Lokayukta Protest

VPP protested the state government’s termination of three Lokayukta officials, alleging it was related to their investigation into a scam involving an NPP MLA and the Chief Minister’s brother-in-law. 

On January 18, 2024, the party announced a sit-in demonstration at the Meghalaya Secretariat, labelling the termination as an “injustice and insult to the entire state.”

Despite the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government’s stance, VPP asserted that the Meghalaya Lokayukta Act did not mandate appointees to be in-service or retired. 

The party accused the government of undermining the Lokayukta’s independence. The sit-in was temporarily suspended after assurances of a meeting with Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma.

Questions Raised at Assembly Sessions

VPP actively participated in the first Assembly sessions after the 2023 state elections, raising questions about illegal land transactions, the price rise of essential commodities, delayed relief funds, violations of the Land Transfer Act, and the Forest (Conservation) Amendment Act. Their long list of questions highlighted long pending issues of the state, which have also been a part of the party’s agenda at conception.

However, on the very first day of the session, March 20, 2023, VPP legislators staged a walkout from the Meghalaya Assembly when the Governor addressed the House in Hindi. This was despite the CM citing the Governor’s limitations. The disgruntled VPP MLAs, including President Basaiawmoit, walked out asserting Meghalaya is not a Hindi-speaking state and criticising the lack of recognition for Khasi and Garo in the 8th Schedule.

VPP also has its fair share of criticism. Some accuse the party of being ‘too religious’ by promoting Bible verses, which could allegedly alienate non-Christian communities. Others claim VPP only cares about certain regions like Khasi-Jaintia hills and Ri Bhoi while ignoring the rest of the state.

Just around the Lok Sabha polls, VPP expelled some prominent members like Avner Pariat, who then resigned citing the party’s shift towards religious fanaticism. This internal turmoil has raised doubts about the party’s cohesion. There are allegations that VPP supporters disrupted campaign meetings of other parties by shouting slogans, leading to confrontations and notices being served. The ruling government has criticised VPP for making promises about building the future without explaining how.

Lok Sabha 2024: A Resounding Victory

In the Lok Sabha polls, VPP’s candidate Dr Ricky Andrew J Syngkon won the Shillong Parliamentary Constituency, defeating political heavyweights like NPP’s Ampareen Lyngdoh and INC’s Vincent Pala by over 3.7 lakh votes. This victory marked VPP’s first-ever Lok Sabha win in their very first attempt.

Edited By: Aparmita
Published On: Jun 15, 2024