By- Ishan Nag and Akash Poyam
‘News of PA Sangma’s death on Friday came as a rude shock to most Lok Sabha members because just the previous day he was there in the house, chatting with many in his characteristic jovial manner. But then, springing ‘surprises’ has been the hallmark of his long and eventful political roller coaster ride.’[i]
Former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma passed away of a heart attack on morning of March 4. 68 years old Mr. Sangma was a nine time Lok Sabha member from Tura in Meghalaya. He was also the first tribal Speaker, as well as first Speaker from the North East. He was born on September 1, 1947 in a village Chapahati in West Garo Hills and grew up in a small tribal village. He spent his childhood in poverty and in fact was forced to quit at the age of 11. He would tend cattle in exchange for a meal and went Hungry on many days, but a Priest helped him return to school. He went to study Masters in International Relations in Dibrugarh University in Assam and also obtained a Law degree.
“Sangma has held positions that made him among the most decorated leaders. He was a nine-time Lok Sabha MP, a highly-rated union minister, a popular Lok Sabha Speaker, chief minister and leader of Opposition in his home state, a prominent voice of North East and a tall tribal leader.”[ii]
His formal political career began after being appointed vice-president of the Youth Congress in 1973. After four years, Sangma became a Lok Sabha member at the age of 30 from Tura constituency. He went on to become a Minister of State during Rajiv Gandhi government and was also appointed Labour minister in Narasimha Rao Cabinet. He was also the first tribal to become a Cabinet minister at the Centre in 1995. He was Chief Minister of Meghalaya from 1988 to 1990 and Opposition leader from 1990 to 1991.
Being a part of Nationalist Congress Party, he later joined Trinmool Congress. He was one of the founding members of NCP along with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar. After splitting from TMC, he formed National People’s Party in 2013 with Arvind Netam, a former Congress leader from Chhattisgarh. A down-to-earth personality, Sangma also contested for Presidential elections against Pranab Mukherjee in 2012.
Sangma was keen on providing an all tribal political forum through NPP. He had consistently stressed on the need of uniting tribals across the country to improve their bargaining power at the Centre. His political career of past decade tells one of his top priorities was working towards, ‘tribal leadership’. Especially after formation of Nation People’s Party, his engagement with Regional tribal parties in central India, gave a glimpse of hope for Adivasi movement, amidst the dominating two-party politics in the central India. Attending an event “Indigenous Peoples Awakening Conference” organized by Gondwana Mahasabha in Madhya Pradesh in 2013, Sangma had said, “In big political parties, smart tribal people never get a chance. Our top priority is to build a tribal leadership”. He had further extended his party’s support to Gondwana Gantantra Party, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha and Jharkhand Disom party. NPP was among the parties in ‘Third front’ in Chhattisgarh, though he had shown his skepticism towards alliance with Left parties.
In his visit to Central India, he had reiterated the demand for granting the same powers enjoyed by Sixth Schedule tribal areas in the north-east to Fifth Schedule tribal areas in rest of the country. While during Madhya Pradesh Elections NPP had political ties with GGP, he had urged Gulzar Singh Markam, the national vice president of Gondwana Ganatantra Party (GGP), to back his efforts to forge a grant national alliance for tribals to fight for their rights.
Known for his affable persona, he was an accepted politician among people, a man of masses. Mr. Sangma delivered his last lecture in an inter-college debate organized by Sonapur College, Guwahati on January 2016 and had said, “The voice of the Northeast is not sufficiently heard in Parliament, in Delhi and across the country. We have to raise our voice to be heard properly. We need fearless public speakers like Hem Barua, Dinesh Goswami and G G Swell. Those were the kind of leaders and public representatives we had in the past who spoke fearlessly, loudly and clearly. We have to produce such leaders, and in more numbers.”
“Sangma’s very rise, from very humble origins in far-off Meghalaya, as a selfmade leader who entered and established in the zealously guarded den of Delhi’s power chamber, was a surprise and stood testimony to his political grit and talent. For his followers, political colleagues and journalists, Sangma has been a charmer — a delightful conversationalist who, even while displaying the tact of a shrewd politician, could be remarkably candid and unpretentious, engaging his listeners with insightful anecdotes and sizzling jokes over a drink and smoke that he loved, and made no secret of it.”[iii]
Condoling the death of Sangma, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “a self-made leader whose contribution towards the development of the North East is monumental. Saddened by his demise.”
In a condolence message to his wife, Soradini Sangma, the President said,Sangma was a veteran Parliamentarian and able administrator who served the nation in different spheres. “He was Member of Lok Sabha for eight terms. As former Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Sangma was instrumental in Meghalaya attaining rapid development in many areas. His distinguished service as former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Union Cabinet Minister, Union Minister of State and Union Deputy Minister will always be remembered. In his passing away, the nation has lost an eminent public figure and multi-faceted personality who made immense contribution for the greater good of our country,” he said.[iv] Given the breadth of his Political and Social life, Sangma would remain in our memories, as a leader of Indigenous people and will indeed be missed by people from North-east to Central India.
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