Meghalaya: Many call it a VIP constituency, but it is also development starved. Thanks to utter negligence over the years.
Dikkanchi D Shira, the wife of former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, is the Trinamool Congress candidate here, but many local Garo voters are rooting for the BJP.
Analysts feel that the Trinamool Congress has an advantage in Garo Hills compared to NPP, but BJP is emerging as a strong contender in many assembly segments.
“The clamour is for PM Narendra Modi and Double Engine Government. If any area in Garo hills deserves change from the status quo, it is Mahendraganj,” says a Government employee.
Sanjay A Sangma (NPP) and BJP’s Tingku N Marak are two other candidates.
There are about 13,500 native Garo voters and an estimated 11,000 Hindu voters. Unlike in the past, locals say many Garo voters will prefer the BJP nominee this time.
Of course, this has triggered panic in the Trinamool Congress camp even as the party candidate’s husband, Mukul Sangma, is widely respected in the region.
Mahendraganj has a total of 36,137 voters, with 17945 males and 18192 females.
Along with Garo voters living in the hills, there is also a dominant Bengali-speaking Muslim electorate in the plains, and they have been like a “vote bank”.
There is also the Hajong-Koch electorate in the hilly areas, and the saffron party candidate may corner their votes this time.
Local police or other officials deny the problem of ‘illegal infiltration’ from across the border in Bangladesh. They even claim zero influx, especially after the barbed wiring of the border about two decades back.
“I am afraid there is still encouragement to Bangladeshi immigrants here…we do not know how, but the problem of illegal infiltration is still there,” laments a Hindu shopkeeper unwilling to be named.
R Martin, a local Garo trader in the market area, says he wants BJP to win so that there is double engine Government. Moreover, he says encouraging relatives of Mukul Sangma and also Late P A Sangma has not helped the common people over the years.
“I want to see the development as is happening in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam under BJP Government,” says retired Government employee Stephen Window.
“We want central schemes to be approved for the state and implemented quickly and effectively. Regional parties cannot help much,” he says.
Locals complain about bad roads, poor marketing facilities, and the absence of educational institutions.
The BJP leaders have said the new Government will address the demand for a border haat at Nandichar. There is one at Kalaichar, and it is estimated that these haats will facilitate the inter-country exchange of products.
Fruits, such as oranges and apples from Garo Hills, could be exported to Bangladesh.
Formalising trade and commerce can engage youths in meaningful employment, says a serving police official.
“My wife is a teacher, and we know students run to Shillong and Guwahati to pursue professional and career-oriented courses,” he says, adding the new Government should look into these.
Local BJP leaders say this brought in a tremendous shortfall in the kidnapping. Ultimately all these will help BJP garner more votes at the February 27 polls.
The Garo hills are the hub of Garo tribals and have 24 seats in the 60-member state assembly. The BJP is confident of doing well. Generally speaking, it appears to be a triangular contest between BJP, NPP and Trinamool Congress. The clamour for change among voters puts saffron party candidates at a huge advantage.