New Delhi: Perhaps for the first time in Meghalaya’s history, a candidate contesting an assembly election has been killed in a poll-related violence. Jonathone Nengminza Sangma, contesting the February 27 elections as a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate from the Williamnagar constituency in the state’s East Garo Hills district, died on February 18, along with three others, after his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device (IED) placed on a road near the district’s Samanda area.
A rally was held in Williamnagar town on February 19 against the killing, in which a large number of people took part to register their protest against the violence.
Sangma, 43, was returning home after his campaign in the Sobokgre area around 7:50 pm.
According to local reports quoting eyewitnesses, Sangma was travelling in a convoy comprising four vehicles. “His vehicle was the second one. There were seven people in it, two supporters, two of his PSOs and the driver besides him. After the blast, we all rushed out of our vehicle which was following him and were lying down on the ground. Since there was no gunshot after it, we rushed to Sangma’s vehicle. He was alive then. We contacted the first vehicle and ask it to return to rush him to the hospital. By the time it did, he passed away,” a local report quoted an NCP worker as saying.
Police have suspected the role of a faction of an armed group, the Garo National Liberation Front (GNLA). The outfit had pasted posters on trees in Garo language two days ago, threatening people of dire consequences if they voted for Sangma.
One of those killed along with Sangma was Nikam Momin alias Baichung, one of the founders of the GNLA who surrendered to the state police last year, much to the frustration of top GNLA leader Sohan. The three injured in the attack have been moved to Guwahati for better trauma care.
Soon after the news came, state chief minister Mukul Sangma took to twitter to say, “This desperate act will not be tolerated. The perpetrators of the crime will be apprehended expeditiously and brought to book.”
In the run-up to the 2013 assembly polls, Jonathone Sangma, who then contested as an independent from Wiilamnagar, had accused his opponent and Congress candidate Deborah C. Marak of “using GNLA and intimidating villagers to ensure that they do not vote for him”. He told local reporters then that the GNLA had put up banners in many villages threatening to kill those who would support him.
Based on his FIR, the district police, in November 2014, filed a chargesheet naming Marak, who is also the minister of social welfare in the Mukul Sangma government. The court of the chief judicial magistrate of Williamnagar later granted her bail in the case. Not much progress had taken place in the case since.
Besides Marak, Sangma’s opponent in the 2018 elections was supposed to be Marcuise N. Marak of the National People’s Party. Sangma’s killing has postponed the elections in the constituency. The state Election Commission will soon announce a new date for voting.