"If Barack Obama, a black man, can be elected to the White House, why can't an 'adivasi," asks former speaker Purno Sangma. Busy projecting himself as the 'tribal' candidate in the race for the president's post, Sangma adroitly handles questions on the dichotomy of being in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and yet, unlike Sharad Pawar, not being an ally of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). He is confident a number of 'hidden votes' would work in his favour, as the presidential election is carried out through secret ballot.
With neither the UPA nor the National Democratic Alliance having the required numbers on their own, Sangma feels his chances are bright, bolstered by the likes of All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, and Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik. "It is this Third Front that will be decisive when polls take place," says Sangma.
"Issues like Maoism, Naxalism, insurgency problems in the Northeast are all tribal-related problems. A tribal president will be in a better position to soften their stand and reach out to them," he says. On Pranab Mukherjee as a presidential candidate, he says he has high regard for Mukherjee's abilities as an administrator and a strategist. However, he adds, "He's not comfortable with elections."
Dispelling talk of friction within the NCP, as the party is not supporting his candidature, Sangma said, "There are clearly two categories of the NCP---one is the NCP that is in a coalition with the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre and in Mumbai. But in Meghalaya, in the Congress-led government, it is the NCP which is in Opposition. In Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Kerala, too, it is the same."
"Sharad Pawar's stand is correct from his point of view. Mine is right from my view. After all, I'm an MLA (member of legislative assembly) from Meghalaya. I'm not part of the UPA coalition," he says.
As for his daughter Agatha Sangma, who continues to be a minister in the UPA government, he insists she has stopped accompanying him on visits to political party leaders.
He also clarifies he is an "incidental candidate" for the presidential poll, put forward by the Tribal Forum of India.
Hitting out against the Congress for propping former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi against him, he says, "I appeal to the Congress to support "pure tribals", not "doubted tribals." The veracity of Jogi's Scheduled Tribe certificate has been challenged in the Supreme Court and is still sub-judice.
Banking on the fact that voting for the election would be through secret ballot, he says, "Who knows who will vote for whom."
[Courtesy: Business Standard, May 27, 2012]