Garo Hills goes to polls today amid protests

DCA department appeals voters to ignore boycott calls

SHILLONG: The stage is set for elections to 29 seats in the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC) on Monday amid the shadow of protests from pressure groups and militants against the participation of non-tribals in the polls.
The poll timing is from 7 am to 4 pm and EVMs will be used in all polling stations for the smooth conduct of polls.
The State Government has appealed to the voters to come out in large numbers to cast their votes despite the protest from the pressure groups and GNLA coinciding with the polls.
As many as 5,90,456 voters will decide the fate of 162 candidates in fray in 29 constituencies out of the total 30. The candidate for the remaining one seat will be nominated by the Government.
The break-up of party wise candidates are Congress (29) NPP (26) UDP (14) BJP (6), NCP and GNC (4 each). There are as many as 79 candidates who are contesting as Independents.
Out of the total 162, there are only six women candidates.
Only Congress and NPP had put up some non-tribal candidates in addition to a few Independents.
The counting of votes will be held on October 15.
The candidates and the leaders of various political parties had made last ditch efforts to woo the voters during the campaign which ended on Saturday.
For the Congress and NPP, the election is crucial as its outcome will prove the strength of these rival parties in Garo Hills which will also be a signal to the 2018 Assembly polls.
The election which was delayed for over one and a half years is now facing hurdles with opposition from leaders of various pressure groups who had appealed the people not to take part in the elections over the issue of participation of non tribals.
Another worry for the police is the GNLA’s endorsement of the protest against holding elections in the name of participation of non tribals in the elections.
Though the election was to be held simultaneously in the GHADC, the KHADC, and the JHADC in February 2014, the State Government had delayed the polls till October 2015 by citing that the Government had to wait for the signing of Agreed Text for Settlement with ANVC and ANVC-B.
Another reason was that the Government wanted to wait for the amendment to the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution to increase the seats from 30 to 40.
Tight security arrangements have been made by the police in all the sensitive polling stations.
Though the Centre has not provided any additional security forces for the polls in view of the start of Bihar elections on the same day, the existing forces of 15 companies and other central paramilitary forces which are already in the State will be used for the smooth conduct of polls.
Security forces have also been dispatched from Khasi Hills to Garo Hills to ensure law and order during the polls.
Polling parties have already left for their respective polling stations and many have already reached the destinations.
Earlier, in a statement issued to the media, E.M. Lyngdoh, Under Secretary to District Council Affairs Department had asked the people to come out in large numbers to cast votes despite the protest from the pressure groups and GNLA coinciding with the polls.
The pressure groups and GNLA had resorted to the use of pamphlets and other means of communication to reach out to the general public and the voters in particular, Lyngdoh said.
“The State Government wishes to reiterate that the criteria for inclusion of a person in the electoral rolls for the conduct of elections to the Autonomous District Councils is clearly laid down in the Assam & Meghalaya Autonomous Districts (Constitution of District Councils) Rules 1951, as amended and the operation of these rules cannot be called into question at this juncture unless they are amended by the competent authority,” Lyngdoh said, while clarifying the participation of non-tribals in the polls.
The State Government also appealed to all sections of the citizens in all the districts of Garo Hills and the voters in particular to allow the election to the GHADC to pass off smoothly and peacefully “and to come out in large numbers on October 12 and cast their votes which is a legal and unalienable right of every eligible voter guaranteed by the Constitution of India”.
The State Government also reminded the right thinking citizens of the State that surrender of his/her basic constitutional rights on account of a call for a boycott is a retrograde step which does not serve any useful purpose.
The District Council Affairs department also informed that adequate measures have been taken to ensure the safety and security of the voters and of the public in general.
“All concerned are therefore called upon to render all help and cooperation for the security forces and the men on duty to ensure a smooth and successful poll,” the statement added.

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