Meghalaya’s Garo Hills region, which decides the fate of 24 of the state’s total 60 assembly seats, is poised for a decisive battle with the ruling Congress and the opposition National People’s Party (NPP) led by former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma.

In the 2008 polls, the Congress won only seven seats in Garo Hills while the party fell short of the magic number by six seats. The Congress is desperately trying to make a dent in the fortress of Mr Purno A. Sangma, which the veteran politician has built in Garo Hills over three and a half decades, in its quest for an absolute majority.

In 2008, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Mr Purno A. Sangma won 13 seats in Garo Hills. The Congress has lined up star campaigners like party president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and other leaders to woo the voters from Sangma’s camp to its fold. The ruling party is showcasing the creation of two new districts in Garo Hills, its flagship programme Integrated Basin Development and Livelihood Programme, tripling of central plan allocations over the past three years, initiation of construction work of roads and upgradation of highways including the Shillong-Nongstoin-Tura highway. Mr Purno A. Sangma’s NPP has made corruption, spurt in insurgency in Garo Hills, and development its main poll planks. The party has left two seats for the BJP in Garo Hills.

The presence of as many as 68 independent candidates, including a number of rebel Congress candidates who were denied tickets, among the total 165 candidates, has made the battle tougher for both the Congress and the NPP.

With Mr Purno Sangma’s two sons — Leader of Opposition Conrad Kongkal Sangma and James Pansang Kongkal Sangma — in the fray as NPP candidates from Selsella and Daddengre constituencies and Chief Minister Mukul Sangma seeking re-election from Amparti constituency, his wife Dikkanchi D. Shira making her debut electoral presence from Mahendraganj, and his brother Zenith M. Sangma contesting from Rangsokona, assembly polls in Garo Hills this time has become a battle between the two Sangma families.

For Dr. Mukul Sangma, increasing the Congress tally in Garo Hills is personally important for him to be in the race for Chief Minister.

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