Shillong, Feb 26 (IANS) With Meghalaya all set to vote on Tuesday to elect a new Assembly, the Congress exuded confidence of retaining power while the BJP and regional parties were equally gung-ho about unseating the ruling party in the northeastern state.
The Congress — ruling the state for a decade — has fielded candidates in all 60 seats, of which 59 will go to polls. Seven of its legislators have since quit and jumped on to the bandwagon of the Bharatiya Janata Party, National People’s Party (NPP) and newly floated People’s Democratic Front (PDF).
Chief Minister Mukul Sangma, the chief architect of the Congress win on 29 seats in the 2013 elections, said he was confident of increasing the number of its MLAs in the new house.
“We (Congress) are confident of coming to power again for the third consecutive time,” Sangma, Meghalaya’s longest serving Chief Minister, told IANS.
“I don’t see any anti-incumbency. Instead, there is so much of pro-incumbency. People of the state have faith and confidence in the Congress,” he added.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who visited Meghalaya twice in the past one month and campaigned in Khasi Hills, Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills regions, had told IANS: “We have the people’s support and I am confident we will retain power in Meghalaya.”
The BJP, fighting the polls alone by fielding 47 candidates, is equally confident of winning a good number of seats and forming a non-Congress government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Tourism Minister K.J. Alphons were among a host of top BJP leaders, apart from Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, who campaigned in the state.
“Meghalaya is also getting ready for change. People have grown wary of misdeeds and misrule of the Congress and pinning their hopes on change,” BJP’s election strategist and Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.
The NPP, an ally of the BJP with two MLAs, is hopeful of increasing the numbers as five former Congress legislators are contesting on NPP symbol this time.
“People’s voice is for change. We are hopeful to emerge as the single largest party in the Assembly and form the government,” NPP President Conrad K. Sangma said.
The combined regional alliance comprising United Democratic Party, Hill State People’s Democratic Party and Garo National Council also was gung-ho about electoral victory.
The HSPDP and the UDP forged a pre-poll alliance in 36 seats in Khasi and Jaintia Hills, while the UDP tied up with the Garo National Council for 24 seats in the Garo Hills.
“I hope people will reject the Congress, which even its own people have rejected by not contesting,” UDP leader Bindo Mathew Lanong said. He said he is hopeful of the regional alliance leading in the new government.
Voting to 59 of the 60 constituencies will be held between 7 a.m. and 4 pm. The counting of votes will take place on March 3, Chief Electoral Officer Frederick Roy Kharkongor said.
Polling in Williamnagar seat was countermanded following the killing of Nationalist Congress Party candidate Jonathone Sangma in an IED blast at Sawilgre area in East Garo Hills district on February 18.
A total of 18,09,918 electors, including 9,13,701 females, will be eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 361 candidates — including 32 women — across 3,025 polling stations.
As many as 340 polling stations have been categorised as ‘critical’ and 580 ‘vulnerable’.
Balloting in 183 polling stations will be webcast, to be made available at the offices of Chief Electoral Officer or District Electoral Officer and the Election Commission of India, Kharkongor said
As many as 66 all-women polling stations and 61 model polling stations have been set up.
Mawlai constituency in East Khasi Hills district has the highest voters at 42,670, and Dalu in West Garo Hills the lowest 18,640 voters.
In all, 106 companies of central armed police forces have been deployed to ensure peaceful polls, he said.