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Rebel fear looms in poll run-up

- Cloud on Garo hills with attack rerun

Shillong, Dec. 3: A “poll of gloom” is writ large over Garo hills as the electorate prepares to vote “freely, fairly and fearlessly” in the 2013 Assembly elections.

In the past week alone, militants have attacked two Congress leaders operating in the region.

While Meghalaya PCC working president Deborah C. Marak was attacked by militants allegedly belonging to the ANVC (B), a breakaway faction of the ANVC, a grenade was lobbed by a Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) rebel at the private residence of state community and rural development minister Saleng A. Sangma.

Deborah is seeking a comeback to the state Assembly from Williamnagar in East Garo Hills while Saleng, one of the youngest legislators in the House, is likely to seek election from Songsak , also in East Garo Hills . In 2008, he was elected from Dalamgiri in West Garo Hills.

The ANVC (B) had recently issued a statement threatening politicians who are campaigning for the Assembly polls with security cover.

“Politicians will feel the sting of typical Garo traps if they campaign with security. In Garo hills, people are insecure and there is a protest against police atrocities, which remains unattended to, whereas politicians are busy securing themselves,” the ANVC (B), led by Rimpu N. Marak, had said in a statement.

The group had also stated that there was no threat to “genuine leaders” who are striving to rise against the high tide of rich and powerful politicians.

“For those who focus only on face-selling and empty-promise campaigns with the intention to buy votes, it is advisable they stay at home instead of not returning home at all,” the outfit warned.

The region, which is divided into five districts, has 24 representatives in the 60-member House.

Prominent among the political parties which will participate in the polls in the western region is the ruling Congress and the P.A. Sangma-led National People’s Party (NPP).

“The situation at the ground level is tense and we are unhappy with the state government as it has been unable to contain the prevailing circumstances,” Opposition leader Conrad K. Sangma told The Telegraph over phone from Garo hills.

According to him, the militants have not spared even party workers at the ground level. “For instance, some of our party workers in the Bajengdoba area (North Garo Hills) were kidnapped for ransom. I have brought this to the notice of the state police department,” he said.

While condemning the attacks on Deborah and Saleng, the Opposition leader asked the state government to provide adequate security to all candidates who will be contesting the elections.

Recently, the state government had classed various political leaders under different categories to provide them with security cover.

It had also advised politicians and other VIPs to inform their respective district administration about their movements in Garo hills and cautioned them against travelling without proper security cover.

Moreover, Conrad said he had recently written to chief minister Mukul Sangma, requesting him to immediately convene a meeting of the State Security Commission.

“Through the commission, we can create a policy and also adopt precautionary measures in view of the upcoming polls so that they can be held in a free and fair manner,” the Opposition leader said, adding that the chief minister was yet to respond to the letter. As political parties, candidates, and the electorate prepare to exercise their democratic right, an onerous task is already at hand to ensure that the polls will pass off “peacefully, freely, fairly and fearlessly”.


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