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Committed to peace

In every election manifesto for every Assembly poll, political parties have always pledged to eradicate militancy and, at the same time, to initiate peace talks with insurgent groups.

However, the kind of support being given by militant groups to candidates or political parties has never been too explicit. This time, the BJP, which has put up 13 candidates for the polls, has alleged that the Congress is using militants to sway voters in some pockets of Garo hills. The ruling party has, however, refuted the charge.

Rebels in the form of militants began to surface in Meghalaya in the early 1990s with groups like the Hynniewtrep A’chik Liberation Council (now Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council), A’chik Liberation Matgrik Army, A’chik National Volunteers’ Council (ANVC) and Liberation A’chik Elite Force playing a dominant role.

The downfall of their dominance began in the mid-2000s with several cadres killed, arrested or surrendered. The emergence of Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) in 2009-10 again put Meghalaya on the insurgency map and brought Garo hills into the limelight. Last year, the Centre declared the outfit a “terrorist organisation” and its chairman Champion R. Sangma was arrested.

In accordance with its pledge to do away with militancy, the Meghalaya government had, in the run-up to the February 23 polls, given its nod to the draft agreement to be signed with the ANVC, which has been under a tripartite ceasefire since July 2004.

The Centre’s green signal on the agreement is awaited. The ANVC had agreed to the draft agreement on January 5 this year after holding a dialogue with the Union and state governments to pave the way for a permanent resolution to the issues raised by it.

According to the draft agreement, powers of the existing Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) will be expanded. The state government has agreed to also expand the powers of the other two district councils in Khasi hills and Jaintia hills. But will the state government’s nod on the draft agreement fetch votes for the ruling Congress?

ANVC publicity secretary Arist Sangma said, “Although a majority of the people in the Garo hills has supported the draft settlement agreement, it does not mean that they will lend support to a candidate on the basis of the agreement.” On February 23, the voters will decide whom to vote for by exercising their own “conscience”, he added.

In the 2008 polls, he said, the ANVC did not provide support to any quarter. Asked whom the ANVC is lending support to in this election, Sangma said: “As an organisation, we are not supporting any party or candidate. But cadres at their individual level could be supporting some party or candidates.”

Sangma said at times villagers come to the outfit’s leaders, seeking “advice” on whom to vote for. “We advise the villagers who come to us to vote for the right person and not to indulge in bribe-taking from any candidate or party,” he said.

On the fate of the agreement, he said the outfit would approach the leaders of the new government soon after the election. “It does not matter who forms the government. We will approach the new government with the request to speed up the process of implementing the agreement,” he said.

On law and order in Garo hills, he said the prevalent circumstances were “quite okay”. The GNLA, on its part, had reportedly promised, through a section of the media, not to disrupt the poll.

However, post election, the new government would have a difficult task at hand vis-à-vis militancy in the Garo hills. On the one hand, it has to ensure that the agreement with the ANVC receives the Centre’s nod, and on the other, it has to fight a fierce battle to contain the GNLA.