The game changers

Purno Agitok Sangma, 65, the "undisputed king of Garo hills", in his new avatar as president of the National People's Party (NPP), with the book as its symbol, is working overtime in the western part of the state to ensure the defeat of the Congress.

With over 40 years of experience as a politician, Sangma is an indispensable personality in every election as a majority of the people in Garo hills still regard him as their leader notwithstanding the fact that he has been altering his political jersey at regular intervals.

His charisma, accompanied with his natural wit and ability to take a dig at his opponents, is still writ large in all the five districts of Garo hills although chief minister Mukul M. Sangma is giving him competition.

The Congress accuses him of not having brought in enough development programmes to the region in spite of having been elected as a Lok Sabha MP for nine terms from Tura parliamentary seat.

The Garo hills region has 24 seats in the 60-member Meghalaya Assembly. Although Sangma is not contesting in the February 2013 polls, his two sons ' James and Conrad ' are seeking re-election as NPP candidates. Whether the people will go by the book and with Sangma, is something which can only be seen on February 28 when the votes are counted.

The NPP is dominant in the East and North Garo Hills districts, going by the outcome of the 2008 polls when Sangma was leading the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). From the 15 seats it bagged across the state in the last elections, six came from the two districts.

Anticipating a fractured mandate, the NPP, if it emerges with more than 15 seats, will play a crucial role in government formation.

But the party is likely to work with regional players like the United Democratic Party (UDP), considering that his new party had recently aligned with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

Sangma is also looking forward to playing a larger role in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and will utilise the Meghalaya polls as a springboard to achieve greater recognition and responsibility within the NDA. If the NDA is voted to power in the Lok Sabha polls and if Sangma can prove his mettle, then the Garo hills strongman will surely make it big at the Centre.

But with Mukul Sangma emerging as a close competitor to his leadership, the "undisputed king" will have to put in more effort to remain the numero uno.

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