In Meghalaya’s Jaintia Hills, the former hub of coal mining in the state, the incumbent Congress has suffered major setbacks. Of the seven constituencies spread across the East and West Jaintia Hills districts, the Congress has won only one seat, and has either lost or is trailing in the others. Till 3 pm, the Congress had won 12 seats across the state and was leading in nine others.
With 12,257 votes, the Congress candidate won the East Jaintia Hills district’s Sutnga Saipung seat. In the district’s only other constituency, Khliehriat, the Congress suffered a major loss with only 150 votes.
In West Jaintia Hills’ Nartiang constituency, the National People’s Party candidate won, while the Congress came a close second. In Raliang, around 3 pm, the National People’s Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party were leading, while the Congress secured only about 350 votes. In Jowai, the Congress, with 8,000 votes, was trailing behind the National People’s Party and the United Democratic Party. In Mowkaiaw, the Congress, with a little over 6,000 votes, lost. In Amlarem constituency, Congress was trailing behind the United Democratic Party and National People’s Party.
In 2013, the Congress was the single largest party in the region with three seats in the coal belt. Overall, the Congress won 29 seats, independents 13, and the United Democratic Party won 8 in 2013. The National People’s Party won 2 seats, while the Bharatiya Janata Party won none.
In April 2014, about a year after the Congress had come to power in the state, the National Green Tribunal banned rat-hole coal mining citing environmental and other legal concerns. The rat-hole technique, widely-prevalent in the state, is a primitive method of mining that entails digging small vertical pits to reach the coal. Tunnels are then dug sideways to extract the coal. Besides making direct contributions to the state economy, mining had also created a host of jobs.
In the run-up to the 2018 Assembly polls, people in the Jaintia Hills blamed the Congress for not doing enough to fight the ban and allow mining to resume in the state. As a pre-condition to restart mining in the state, the National Green Tribunal had asked the state government to submit a mining policy – something that it has still not been able to formulate, much to the chagrin of coal miners and traders.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, on the other hand, promised to help lift the ban if it is voted to power. The BJP’s promise had more than a few takers in the coal belt. While the BJP did not win any seats itself, resentment against the Congress seems to have translated into gains for the two regional parties, the National Democratic Party and the National People’s Party – who are widely considered to be leaning towards the saffron party.