Shillong, July 20 (IANS) For this tribal-majority, pretty hill state, the chances of its native, P.A. Sangma’s, in the presidential election remain the main talking point of its three milllion people, in offices and homes, in schools and colleges and its colourful bazaars.
The election has put the people on their seats’ edge with discussions on as to whether or not Purno Agitok Sangma, in many ways the representative of Meghalaya in the rest of the country, should be the 13th President of India.
“No one knows about politics. Looking at the numbers, Mukherjee is far ahead of Sangma but let us wait till Sunday (July 22) when they will declare the results,” said Livingstone Thangkhiew, a tribal Khasi youth.
In fact, even Sangma is pinning his hopes on “miracles” and of emulating president V.V. Giri, who got elected in 1969 by defeating Congress-sponsored candidate Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy.
“It is a secret ballot. Let us wait till (July) 22nd. I am a strong believer and I do believe in miracles,” Sangma told IANS.
The tribal Garo leader from Meghalaya, who started his political career as a Congress activist in Meghalaya, has won nine consecutive Lok Sabha elections from Tura in the state. The constituency is now represented in the Lok Sabha by his youngest daughter Agatha K. Sangma, the minister of state for rural development.
For a brief period from 1988 to 1990, he was Meghalaya’s chief minister. Sangma also has the distinction of being the only Lok Sabha speaker to be elected unopposed.
However, the Congress downplayed his chances. Chief Minister and Congress leader Mukul Sangma said: “I am pretty confident that there would not be any setback and the UPA nominee would win hands down.”
“The voting trend of the UPA candidate in the northeast will be as expected and, therefore, there will be hardly any setback for us,” he added.
Nationalist Congress Party legislator and Leader of Opposition in Meghalaya Conrad Sangma dubbed the presidential election as a “proud moment for the people of the northeast and the tribals”.
“We have already mentioned that we are definitely proud of the fact that P.A. Sangma is contesting in this election. And therefore our prayers and our hopes are with him and we do hope that he gets through,” said Conrad, who is Sangma’s youngest son.
“It will be a very proud moment, I think, for every citizen of the state and the region as a whole and in fact for all the tribals in the country,” he added.
Sangma is banking on support of “conscience” vote and why a tribal and one from the northeastern region should not be in Rashtrapati Bhavan, even after 65 years of India’s independence.
Sangma’s chances are however dim in the northeast too. Apart from the Congress-ruled Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram, the government of the Communist Party of India-Marxist ruled Tripura, the Naga Peoples Front (NPF)-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) that governs Nagaland and the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) extend their support to Mukherjee.
However, not everyone was championing identity politics.
“We need to have an Indian president above regionalism and ethnicity. Whom did Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed (who belonged to Assam) represent?” asked Apurba Kumar Baruah, a student of political science at the North Eastern Hill University in Shillong.
Sangma is backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK and some other parties against United Progressive Alliance candidate Pranab Mukherjee.
(Raymond Kharmujai can be contacted at [email protected])