For former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Agitok Sangma, the forthcoming elections in Meghalaya are perhaps the biggest test of his three-decade-old political career.
Having walked out of the Congress with Sharad Pawar and then split its state unit in Meghalaya in 1999, Sangma will have to demonstrate his clout on home turf by ensuring that the Nationalist Congress Party gets a prominent role to play in the post-result scenario in Meghalaya.
Although Sangma has repeatedly said that the NCP will secure a landslide victory in the February 26 election, political reality suggests otherwise.
He will have to ensure that the NCP wins a substantial number of seats in the Garo Hills, touted as his stronghold.
Of the 60 seats in the Meghalaya assembly, the Garo Hills accounts for 24. All these 24 constituencies fall under the Tura Lok Sabha seat, which Sangma has been winning with thumping margins since the late '70s on Congress tickets.
This time, Sangma will have to demonstrate that he is a force to reckon with even without the Congress symbol behind him.
Voters in Garo hills have traditionally voted for the Congress. In the 1998 assembly polls, for instance, the Congress won 17 of its 25 seats from there. This time, the NCP and the Congress will fight for the same vote bank, giving a better than realistic chance to regional outfits.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday first flew to Ressubelpara in the Garo Hills and asked the voters to reaffirm their faith in the party. The Congress' state unit president Salseng C Marak is involved in a straight fight against an NCP candidate, T D Shira, in this seat.
Sangma has been touring all the 24 constituencies in Garo Hills for the past two months. At various rallies, the NCP leader has said that the 'Congress will be wiped out from the entire state this year'.
"I am 100 per cent sure that S C Marak is heading for a defeat."
The Congress, on the other hand, sees Sangma as a spent force. "Purno Sanga will realise this time that without the Congress organisation to back him, he has no influence in Meghalaya," a Congress legislator said.
The antipathy between the two parties is all the more surprising since they are coalition partners in the incumbent government.
One has to wait till March 1, when counting taken place, to see whether Sangma can come out of the shadow of the Congress and stamp his authority on the politics of Meghalaya.