Of costly watches and elephants in Meghalaya polls

April 11th, 2009 - 1:40 pm ICT by IANS  

By Syed Zarir Hussain
Shillong, April 11 (IANS) Wild elephants and the costliest watch! Those are some of the talking points in mountainous Meghalaya where electioneering is at a low ebb with political parties trying to work out campaign schedules to instil enthusiasm amongst voters.

With just five days to go, the battlelines are drawn for the two parliamentary seats that go to the polls on April 16 — Shillong and Tura — but there are no real issues and petty local politics still dominate.

The fight for the Shillong parliamentary seat is between the Congress and the United Democratic Party (UDP), a major constituent of the recently dissolved Meghalaya Progressive Alliance government.

In Tura, the contest for political supremacy is between Agatha Sangma, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Purno Sangma’s daughter who represented the seat in the last Lok Sabha, and Congress candidate Deborah Marak.

Congress candidate for the Shillong seat Vincent Pala is the richest among the 11 contestants in the fray for the two Meghalaya seats with assests worth Rs.24 crore, including a gold watch costing Rs.12 lakh but he is trying his best to woo voters living below the poverty line in his own way.

In an election meeting in Shillong titled ‘Understand their problems’, Pala pledged the supply of essentials to the underprivileged, besides promising a welfare package for them.

“We want to provide stability, good governance, besides fulfilling the needs of all sections of the society,” Pala told IANS.

Pala’s rival John Kharshiing of the UDP, a social activist fighting for legitimising the traditional institution of kingship and protect ancient customary laws, has similar plans if voted to power.

“I shall ensure that people in rural areas get a due share of the various welfare schemes,” Kharshiing said.

In Tura, where the fight is between two women in a predominantly matrilineal society where personalities matter more than political affiliations, the clout of former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Sangma might come handy once again for his daughter Agatha.

Agatha, now 28, has become the youngest member in the current Lok Sabha, having won the Tura seat vacated by her father who was elected to the state assembly in June 2008 and defeated her Congress rival by a margin of nearly 100,000 votes.

Agatha’s election has drawn much attention not just because of her lineage - Sangma held the Tura seat for close to 30 years - but also because it took more than 35 years for Meghalaya to have its first woman MP.

“Society in Meghalaya may be matrilineal but men are still at the forefront of decision-making. That holds good in the field of politics too. But my election as an MP last year is a good first step for women here to join active politics,” Agatha said.

Amid the rhetoric, the Election Commission is facing a peculiar problem - a threat not from militants, but wild Asiatic elephants.

Over 200 polling booths, mostly in the Tura parliamentary constituency, have been marked ’sensitive’ for fear of attacks by wild elephants.

“Returning officers have been asked to work out strategies to deal with the problem, while crackers and self-defence weapons would be provided to the polling officials to thwart elephant attacks,” Chief Electoral Officer P. Naik said.

(Syed Zarir Hussain can be contacted at zarir.h@ians.in)

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