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BJD inks Sangma choice

Bhubaneswar, June 26: Around 100 BJD MPs and MLAs today attested their signatures to the nomination papers of former Speaker P.A. Sangma, sponsoring his candidature for the country’s highest office.

The celebratory mood at Naveen Nivas, the residence of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, was evident as party leaders vied with each other to propose and second the Meghalaya strongman for the top job in the presence of his son Conrad K. Sangma, who mingled with them freely.

The leaders gorged on vegetable biryani and chenna poda (a local sweet dish) as foot-tapping music played in the background. For fruit lovers, there were plenty of mangoes and green coconuts.

Almost all the 108 MLAs and 22 MPs of the BJD, with the exception of the six who were suspended in the wake of an abortive coup against the chief minister last month, turned up at Naveen Nivas.

Conrad, who drove straight to the chief minister’s residence after arriving at the city airport in the afternoon, was effusive in his praise of Naveen and his party. “I thank Naveenji because it is he who first proposed my father’s name as a presidential candidate. It shows his love for tribals and members of the Christian community,” he said, apparently happy to have collected the signatures of BJD MPs and MLAs.

Sangma junior, who is the leader of Opposition in the Meghalaya Assembly, ruled out the possibility of quitting the NCP, which is backing UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee in the race to Raisina Hill. “There is no whip from the NCP. We are in the Opposition in Meghalaya,” he quipped.

On the other hand, state BJP leaders were upset as the junior Sangma made no attempt to meet them. State BJP president Jual Oram, who was out of Bhubaneswar, said that neither Conrad nor anyone else contacted him to discuss Sangma’s candidature.

However, BJP legislature party leader K.V. Singh Deo said: “We are a national party and will abide by the decision of the national leadership. For all I know, tomorrow we are going to put our signatures on the nomination papers of Mr Sangma in New Delhi.”

Sources said Sangma senior had deliberately chosen to avoid visiting Odisha at this juncture being aware of the tense relations between the BJP and BJD in the state. “By deputing his son to collect the signatures of BJD leaders of the state, he has saved himself the embarrassment of having to answer awkward questions with regard to the BJP,” said a source.

The state BJD leaders, on the other hand, were upbeat and played the perfect host to Conrad. Some of them sought to dismiss suggestions that they were backing a loser by extending support to Sangma. “It would be wrong to make such assumptions at this moment. Things change quickly in politics and there is always a fair chance of leaders voting according to their conscience in this presidential poll,” said former agriculture minister Damodar Rout.