It is for the first time in the history of Meghalaya that a contesting candidate in an election was killed in a daring militant attack. Jothone N Sangma, a candidate for next week’s Meghalaya Assembly election, was among four persons killed on Sunday night when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) went off. tiol Congress Party (NCP) candidate Sangma, his persol security officer and two party workers were killed in the explosion that took place in East Garo Hills when their convoy was returning from campaign. The incident on the eve of election raises several uncomfortable questions considering the fact that there was an open threat to his life suspected to be from the Garo tiol Liberation Army (GNLA). The litany of moot questions are -- who committed the crime, who stands to gain from his death and which group is behind the warning posted on trees warning voters with dire consequences if they vote for Jothone? How come there be no intelligence inputs after these notices came up in different places? When militant outfits can issue such open threats why is the Government of India silent? It is obvious that the state police have failed to check the mece of militancy. Hobnobbing of Garo Hills politicians with militant groups active in the region is an open secret. Time and again reports have surfaced of politician-militant nexus. There were tall claims by politicians in the run-up to the elections that militancy had been tamed in restive Garo Hills region. But this very incident waters down all such illogical claims and again urges our politicians, security agencies to get back to the drawing board and devise a leakproof strategy to root out militancy from the region. Whether they are capable or not is a million dollar question. Hours after the incident Chief Minister Mukul Sangma took to social media to condemn the incident and vowed to bring the guilty to the book. But just ahead of poll in Meghalaya, the incident tears open the Chief Minister’s claim that peace has returned to the state under his leadership. Mr Mukul Sangma belongs from the Garo Hills region but the sprouting of militant activity in the region does not augur too well for him in terms of his electoral prospects in the coming election. Back to deceased Jothone Sangma, who was contesting from the Williamgar constituency: he had received death threats in the past. He had been provided with two security personnel for his protection since 2011. Police said that alleged political rivalry, coupled with interference by militants, might have resulted in the death of Sangma and others in the run-up to the poll. Sangma was the political opponent of senior Congress leader Deborah Marak and he had filed an FIR against Deborah allegedly for using the GNLA to garner votes in the poll. The FIR filed by Jothone in 2013 had alleged that Deborah, besides using the GNLA for intimidating voters in the 2013 polls, had an understanding with the outfit that helped her win the polls. The police claimed that it had evidence that Deborah had in 2013 asked GNLA to support her win the election with an assurance that she would support the GNLA’s demand for Garoland. However, Deborah had in the past denied all the allegations by saying that she had not used the GNLA militants for her electoral victory. According to Deborah, people had willingly voted for her and there was no question of seeking any support from militants. The case is still pending in the lower court in Shillong.
Time to Rein in Militancy in Garo Hills
Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Rajth Singh, just a few kilometres away from the incident site, addressed rallies in Songsak from where Chief Minister Mukul Sangma is contesting against a BJP candidate, a former bureaucrat, Bakul Hajong. However, in his mind Mr Singh would have thought how to contain militancy that raised its ugly head yet again in Garo Hills, rather than the election campaign. It is for sure that Garo Hills is the hotbed of militancy in Meghalaya and the state political leadership has done little to arrest the growth of insurgency in the area. Now it is amply clear that all these militant groups like the GNLA, the ANVC etc., which were formed on the pretext of ensuring rights of Garo people, have all been reduced to a group of extortionists. They are often used by politicians to settle scores with their rivals.