In Meghalaya, Mukul Sangma Spearheads Congress Battle For Garo Hills

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Chief Minister Mukul Sangma campaigned in Meghalaya for five weeks.


GARO HILLS, MEGHALAYA:  On the last day of campaigning before Tuesday's assembly elections in Meghalaya, as 52-year-old Chief Minister Mukul Sangma landed in Chilpara, a remote village in North Garo hills, he was given a grand welcome by Garo warriors. Young boys and girls in traditional Garo attire danced to the tunes of drums, enacting what used to be the ceremonious welcome accorded to the tribal chieftains.

For the Congress, Mr Sangma is no less. He is the lone warrior this elections. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has come campaigning twice in the state, but the onus of this election is on Mr Sangma.

Mr Sangma, under whose leadership the Congress won 29 of the state's 60 seats in 2013, says he is equal to the task.

"As you embark on governance, you come across challenges and stoppages, and we have been able to deliver despite all that. It was transparent and our delivery system has implemented the promises," said the Chief Minister, who ruled for full five years despite dissidence.

In Tripura, where elections were held last week, the contest was between the incumbent Chief Minister Manik Sarkar and a promise of development under the Modi sarkar (government). The same story is playing out in Meghalaya.  But unlike 2013, the BJP making a strong bid for wrest the state from the Congress.

"We saw huge ground support in our favour. There is huge angst against Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and the Congress... The people are in a deplorable state and we expect them to rise against him," said KJ Alphons, the Union Tourism Minister and the BJP's in-charge for the Meghalaya polls.

Apart from the BJP foray, at least half a dozen other parties are in fray. But they are expected to split the votes. In the last elections, 13 seats had gone to Independents.

With its history of fractured mandate, the people in Meghalaya believe the road to power passes through the Garo hills and whoever wins the region, will have more chances to form the government.  

Last time, the Garo hills gave Mr Sangma 13 of 29 seats and he is hoping to improve his showing.  For the last five weeks, the doctor-turned Chief Minister has been camping in the Garo Hills. He has not even gone to the two other key areas in the state -- Jaintia and Khasi hills.

"He is the person who developed us, we like this person and will vote for him," said Parbita Sangma, Young voter, from Chilpara.

The Congress is facing competition in the area from the National People's Party or NPP, founded by the late PA Sangma. With a call for change, NPP chief Conrad Sangma is campaigning hard against Mukul Sangma.

"The people will vote for change this time and it is clear that the NPP is emerging as the main alternative to the Congress," said Conrad Sangma, the party's president who is also a parliamentarian from Tura.

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