Garo vs Khasi Jaintia tensions cast a shadow on Meghalaya politics

By Tanuj Dhar Guwahati, May 21 : Deep ethnic, subnational, and interpersonal fault lines have long defined the politics of Meghalaya. The Khasis, Jaintias, and Garos are the prominent indigenous communities in the three separate hill regions that make up the state. Meghalaya, which was carved out of Assam in 1972, contains 24 assembly seats in the Garo Hills, 29 assembly seats in the Khasi Hills, and seven assembly seats in the Jaintia Hills. The Khasis and Jaintias share some common cultural traits, but the Garos are linguistically and racially distinct. Though the Garo region contributes a lesser number of seats than Khasi Hills, it is ironic that the politics in the hilly state has been largely dominated by Garo community leaders. The present Chief Minister, Conrad Sangma, and his late father, P.A. Sangma, are from Garo Hills. Conrad Sangma's predecessor, Mukul Sangma, belongs to the same community as well. Recently concluded, this year's assembly election saw almost all parties, whether it was the ruling National People's Party (NPP), BJP, or Trinamool Congress, jump to capture a major chunk of Garo voters. Every political party believed that the one who was supposed to be ahead in the Garo Hills would have an upper hand in the formation of the government. When Conrad Sangma's NPP emerged as a single party after the February assembly poll and staked claim to form the government, the capital Shillong descended into familiar turmoil. Following an arson, Khasi nationalist organisations burned effigies and expressed threats of further bloodshed. Two MLAs from the Hill State People's Democratic Party, who had offered support to the National People's Party after the assembly elections had produced a splintered mandate, were the target of their mockery. The names of Methodius Dkhar and Shakliar Warjri of the Hill State People's Democratic Party also appeared in the letter that Sangma submitted to the governor, staking claim to form the government with the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party and an Independent MLA. The two MLAs backing enraged Khasi ethnonationalist organisations, who believed this act prevented the state from having a chief minister from the community. Even though the Hill State People's Democratic Party and the Garo Hills state movement committee intensified their demands two years ago for the demarcation of the boundaries for the proposed Khasi-Jaintia and Garoland states, the Meghalaya state assembly rejected the proposal in 2014. The proposed Garoland includes four districts of Assam: Chirang, Udalguri, Baksa, and Kokrajhar. These districts are currently under the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR). There were by-elections in three assembly seats in Meghalaya in October 2021 ?? Mawryngkeng and Mawphlang in the East Khasi Hills and Rajabala in the West Garo Hills district. The demand for the bifurcation of Meghalaya was one of the issues in those polls, with leaders from the ethnic communities claiming that creating separate Khasi and Garo states would foil conflict issues like those that exist between Assam and Meghalaya. Some sections of both the Khasi and Garo communities even believe that the bifurcation of Meghalaya into two states, one for the Khasi-Jaintia communities and one for the Garos, will essentially wipe out the tension among the ethnic communities. The complexity of the bifurcation of the state compels the different ethnic community leaders to come together and forge alliances to run the government, however, ethnic faultlines that run deeper in the state often come out in the open, at least during every poll in Meghalaya. /IANS


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