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Sangma – A man of courage

By Albert Thyrniang  

The courage of PA Sangma to run for the presidency is admirable. He had to resign from the party he co-founded to be able to race to Raisina Hill. By doing so he may personally stand to lose much, but fighting for a cause is worth it. He is standing for the tribals and the Christians. Many have accused him of playing the tribal and Christian card. What is wrong in it? After all tribals and Christians are part and parcel of this nation. Even after more than 60 years India had never had a tribal and a Christian in the highest office. To those who fault PA Sangma for invoking his tribal and Christian identity, I say that all the presidents in the past were elected as a result of political party/parties playing one card or the other.

Time does not allow me to research into the elections of all presidents after Independence, but to prove my point may I cite two former presidential elections. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was elected because he was a Muslim. The NDA government led by the BJP wanted to project itself as secular so they proposed the name of the nuclear scientist. The Congress which did not want to be seen as anti Muslim had to support Kalam. The outgoing president, Pratibha Patil was elected because she is a woman more than anything else. Therefore, Mr. Sangma’s playing the tribal and Christian card is nothing new. That he had to play by himself is unfortunate. But his experience, achievement and stature easily qualify him to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan. He is a former Cabinet Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker.

Speaking about Mr. Sangma’s courage and conviction one incident comes easily to mind: his leaving the Congress party on the issue of Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin. Though the Congress had given him everything, he stood by him principle of non-natural Indians not occupying the office of the Prime Minster and the President. Many, including this writer, viewed his action as a blunder. Had he compromised on this issue he would have been a key minister at least in the UPA I and II. However, he stood firm. It was certainly a loss for him personally, but a gain at least on the principle front. To stand up for principles and conviction needs courage. Sometimes it requires making huge sacrifice.

In the present circumstances Pranab Mukherjee clearly has the edge. In all likelihood, in a month’s time he will be called His Excellency. But does it mean his opponent has to surrender? Never! Fighting for a cause is worth it even if we lose. Losing while fighting is honourable!

What is Purno Sangma fighting for? What does the short man of tall stature from a remote border village of Chahapati want to tell the whole nation? I think he wants to convey a strong and clear message that tribals and Christians should be counted. They should be made to feel that they are equal citizens of this country. I think this message will echo throughout the length and breadth of this great country. I have a gut feeling that if not this time, one day a tribal Christian will succeed in reaching the top of Raisina Hill. If this prophecy comes true, then the would-be-first tribal Christian president will have to be grateful to Purno Agitok Sangma. He had prepared the way.

My question is what difference will it make to the lives of tribals and Christians if PA Sangma (or any tribal Christian) is elected the President of India? Will the discrimination against us end? Will the mainstream Indians stop asking, ‘Are you Indian?’ in metros, railway stations, air ports and tourist places? Will they still insist that we should produce the Election Identity Card to prove beyond doubt that we are really Indians? (I don’t mind doing so provided it is a requirement for all Indians). I will not be surprised if they ask, ‘Are you Indian?’ even while visiting the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Pessimistic perhaps but not much will change.

Mr. Sangma’s presidential contest has been lukewarmly received by Christians, tribals and the people of the North East. It has not evoked any excitement even in his home town, Tura. I also heard that in Chahapati village there is no euphoria. Why? My reading is that the common man has nothing to expect from the President. As President he or she cannot do anything much. One recalls the then President Narayanan watching with anguish the Gujarat riot. The top most officer of the country could not stop it. He was helpless. His appeal fell on Modi’s deaf ears. The Supreme Army Commander could not even direct his army to ensure security of the country’s citizens. For all practical purposes, the president is a titular, decorative head of state. He is powerless. His only power is signing on the dotted lines. Mr. Sangma will also be the same. Hence, the low key reception to his presidential race!

Another dampening effect is the negative reaction of the politicians from the region. Tarun Gogoi was the first to publicly declare his displeasure over Sangma’s ambition. Vincent Pala followed suit citing that PA Sangma did not support the candidature of GG Swell. The last salvo is Dr. Mukul Sangma’s who viewed his fellow Sangma’s resignation from the NCP as an act of desperation. Politicians are like the Indian crabs pulling each other down. They are keen to please the party bosses.

My only aversion is the support of the BJP. The BJP is a communal party. Its core ideology is Hindutva. The BJP is hell bent on constructing the Ram Temple in Ayodhya if it gets a majority in the Parliament. It is backed by right wing organizations like the Bajrang Dal and the RSS who have only hate for minorities. This is a big blot in Sangma’s aspiration. This is an issue for debate. Do the ends justify the means?

In the meantime let us hope (against hope) that PA Sangma succeeds! Let us hope that the Chahapati man will occupy the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

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