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The comeback man

Purno Sangma addresses a rally in Tura. Picture by Saidul Khan

Former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A. Sangma wants to make a comeback in national politics, but the Congress is all out to stop him from clinching his Garo hills citadel where he has never lost an election since 1977. He has won nine consecutive terms.

In an exclusive tête-à-tête, Sangma explains why he had to return after a gap of six-and-a-half years — because of insurgency in Garo hills and a national mood for a change in governance.

Sangma, 67, is pitted against Congress candidate Daryl William Momin, 27, who is the grandson of Meghalaya’s first chief minister Williamson Sangma.

Sangma is contesting on his own party — National People’s Party (NPP) — ticket from Tura parliamentary constituency. He formed the party after severing ties with the NCP when Sharad Pawar opposed his decision to contest the presidential polls against Pranab Mukherjee in 2012.

Sangma launched his party ahead of the 2013 Assembly polls where it suffered heavy defeat at the hands of the Congress. In his Garo hills stronghold, the party could only manage two seats out of 24.

To win over the hearts of the people, Sangma has taken up the issue of creation of Garoland carved out of Meghalaya. He is also nailing the government on the utter chaos and lawlessness in the state because of insurgency.

Difference between 1977 and 2014

In 1977, I was very young. Two factors helped me win the election. The plain belt area was traditionally a Congress stronghold. In hills, it was Captain Williamson Sangma’s image, but he was not able to carry the sentiments of the people. In most of the constituencies, my opponent Mody Marak won. In hilly areas, the difference between Mody and me was 100-200 votes, but in plain belt areas, I won by a huge margin of 6,000-8,000 votes.

In my first term, I was in Parliament for three years between 1977 and 1980, but in those three years, I made my presence felt in Parliament. Two issues made me come to prominence. The first one was the Morarji Desai government introducing the language bill in the Eighth Schedule for all-India service exams which made either Hindi or Assamese compulsory. I opposed the bill saying it would deprive and deny the rights of all the tribals in the Northeast as they have to appear in one of the two compulsory subjects, Hindi or Assamese. I had to stand up on a bench and speak, nobody had done it so far.

The other issue was O.P. Tyagi’s freedom of religion bill introduced by the Janata Party. It said you cannot be converted to another religion. That was the bill to stop people from embracing Christianity. Besides fighting in Parliament on the issues, I travelled all over India registering my protest against the bill.

Sangma versus Momin

In Delhi, a newspaper says it is a fight between Sangma versus Sangma, whereas the candidate is a Momin. He is young and educated, I extend to him my best wishes.

Return to electoral politics

I am back in electoral politics out of necessity. What do I need? I have been an MP for over 30 years, cabinet minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha and chief minister of Meghalaya.

He said he had to return to national politics because it is the need of the hour. “The situation in Meghalaya and Garo hills has compelled me. It is alarming because the government has failed to deal with it. It is indeed a matter of concern. The NPP will continue to intervene,” he added.

Allegations of being an agent of the BJP and the RSS

A leader like P.A. Sangma who has stood firm on principle and challenged Congress president Sonia Gandhi? Can he be an agent of anybody?

Why the BJP and the NDA?

It has to be the BJP-led NDA or the Congress-led UPA. There is no scope for Third Front government formation. The present situation indicates that the Congress is a sinking ship. I have personal experience to witness Third Front government during my tenure as a Speaker. Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan elections have proved that the Congress is not in a good shape.

Naturally, P.A. Sangma cannot be with the Congress-led UPA, even if it was doing well. So, if I have to be in national politics, I have to be somewhere.

On Modi’s RSS links

Modi was in RSS. But once he became a people’s representative and the chief minister of Gujarat and now, when he aspires to be the Prime Minister, he has to be a different person and he knows it.

When Modi was asked about Ram temple, as an RSS man he could have said, “I will build temple first”, but he said he would build toilets in the country.

“Toilet first, temple later”, was a statement which practically convinced me to support Modi. As the year goes by, everyone of us changes. Over the years, the BJP has undergone a lot of changes.


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