Polls in the shadow of the gun and jumbo
It's not just militants that voters in Meghalaya have to contend with. As many as 194 polling booths in the state have been labeled sensitive due to the threat from marauding elephants.
Meghalaya goes to the polls on Monday. Overall, 829 of the 1,599 polling booths to be set up have been labeled either hypersensitive or sensitive.
Last month, state chief electoral officer P. Naik asked the forest department for guards to keep vigil around booths in West Garo Hills, South Garo Hills and Ri-Bhoi districts where tuskers frequently raid villages for rice beer.
“We have deployed our men besides asking local tribesmen to be on standby. Their job would be to drive wild elephants away with drums and cymbals,” said Meghalaya’s principal chief conservator of forests VK Nautiyal.
Elephants apart, the Congress and the NCP are engaged in a jumbo contest for power in a state that has seen 18 governments in 36 years. The Congress heads the current ruling coalition.
“Our performance should pay dividends,” said chief minister D.D. Lapang, the Congress candidate for the Nongpoh seat. As many as five former chief ministers are in the fray.
The NCP, on the other hand, is upbeat about the “homecoming” of heavyweight Purno Agitok Sangma. “People want a change, and we are going to provide it,” said Sangma, one of five former chief ministers in the fray. The others are Salseng C. Marak, E.K. Mawlong, F.A. Khonglam and J.D. Rymbai.
The elections will also be an acid test for the BJP in the wake of attacks on Christians in Orissa.
Regional parties with considerable clout include the Meghalaya Democratic Party, the United Democratic Party, the Hill State Peoples’ Democratic Party and the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement.
Around 12 lakh voters will decide the fate of 331 candidates across 59 Assembly constituencies in the cloud-kissed hill State. Polling in one seat—Baghmara—was countermanded after the Congress candidate died, leaving 58 candidates representing 13 parties and 73 Independents in the fray.