Elections in Meghalaya are generally a very sedate affair, with most candidates preferring to keep things quiet, making door-to-door visits to garner support for their candidates. However, the plains belt of Garo Hills, in terms of elections, is a vastly different affair, with elections, no matter how small or big, turning into festivals.
For a typical election in the plains belt, the entire procession begins mainly with a display of strength while filing nominations for fighting the election. Prior to that, of course, is the fight for a ticket from one of the regional or national parties.
Most nominations from the belt, which includes Phulbari, Rajabala and Mahedraganj, see vehicle convoys numbering in the hundreds with loud, vociferous chants being the norm rather than the exception.
After nomination begins the fight to prove themselves worthy to represent the people begins. While meetings in other parts of the state feature small numbers, it is not so for the plains belt, where even a little-recognized candidate still attracts huge numbers. The recent visit by Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma to campaign for the Shyamnagar candidate is indicative of that point.
More than 10,000 people from all walks of life came to listen to what the CM, local MLA SG Esmatur Mominin and the National People’s Party (NPP) candidate, Tarif Ibrahim Sarkar, said. Most that came continued to stay until the end of the meeting. Similar crowds were also recorded during the rallies of Congress and other parties’ candidates.
Elections in the plains belt also see innovative ways of campaigning, with some taking out huge walking rallies to prove their numbers while others use mics and sound boxes to create banter for their candidates. The festival atmosphere just cannot be missed.
As with most parts of the state, the announcement of elections also means that huge crowds also begin to visit the home of the candidates in the fray. Tea and biscuits always welcome them with some even staying for lunch or dinner.
Banners and hoardings are also a must, with all possible places where photos of candidates can be put up used to the hilt.
“The atmosphere in the plains belt during elections is always one of celebration. The people enjoy the fact that they can make or break a candidate. Voting is always high as aware voters ensure they are the bosses and make use of their suffrage,” said Phulbari resident, SR Sangma.
The dark side, however, is the fact that plenty of voters are believed to sell their votes. They visit all the candidates in the fray but vote for those who can fill their pockets.
“Some look at it as an opportunity to make a quick buck and stoop to selling their vote. For them development is a myth and its only personal development that needs to be worked on. This is wrong and responsible voting has to be encouraged. How can you ask your representative for development when he/she has already paid you off?” asked another resident, RK Saha.
For now however, the festival continues in full spate – Covid-19 or no Covid-19.