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|September 21, 1999||
Constituency/ Tura (Meghalaya)
Congress makes an issue of Sonia's foreign origins
Prasanta Bora in Tura
Six-time winner from the Tura Lok Sabha constituency and the Nationalist Congress Party general secretary, Purno A Sangma, has a tough battle ahead of him this time. He is locked in a straight battle with the Congress nominee Atul Ch Marak.
Interestingly, both the parties have Sonia at the centre of their campaigns. While the Congress is equating its party chief with Christian missionaries, especially the ones from Italy, who have changed the face of this hilly region, Sangma's party is harping on the dangers of letting a foreigner occupy the prime minister's chair.
The Congress workers never lose an opportunity to point to how an Italian Catholic priest helped Sangma rise from being an unlettered shepherd to the glittering heights of representing Tura in the Lok Sabha.
They also make no bones about the Italian connection of Garos (the dominant tribe in the constituency). ''We feel closer to foreign missionaries than the Indian-born ones. Every Garo will endorse this statement,'' says Billy Kid A Sangma, member of Tura's local council.
For Sangma, winning the Tura seat is a matter of prestige. He has to prove that the Congress had played no role in his previous victories and that it was its personal rapport with the voters that had allowed him to represent the constituency for almost 20 years.
NCP activists are ready with fact and figures to prove this. The NCP district general secretary, Bibhas Das, points out that while in the last assembly elections Congress candidate Joylance Momin had lost in Tura, in the Lok Sabha elections that followed Sangma had a lead of over 6,000 votes over his nearest rival in the Tura assembly segment alone.
Sangma in the last Lok Sabha polls defeated his nearest rival by more than 1,70,000 votes.
Senior party leaders, however, admit that the new symbol (alarm clock) would be a bit of a problem for Sangma. The party has already lodged a complaint with the Election Commission against the distribution of last election's posters by the Congress which have Sangma's smiling face set between Sonia Gandhi's picture on one said and the Congress symbol of hand on the other.
Congress workers point out with glee that many voters were likely to stamp on hand while casting their vote for Sangma.
The Tura Lok Sabha constituency, comprising West Garo Hills (WGH), East Garo Hills (EGH) and South Garo Hills (SGH), has about 4,40,000 voters. An estimated 100,000 non-Garo voters - Hajong, Cooch and Muslims - are mainly spread over West Garo Hills.
The Congress appears to be comfortably placed in Tura, Garobadha, Pipulbari, Rajabala and Sesela (all in WGH, and dominated by tribals and Muslims).
It remains to be seen whether Sangma can make up for the votes lost in WGH in other parts of the constituency.
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