Silences Between Words

PURNO AGITOK SANGMA is an unusual politician whose rise through the ranks is remarkable. He became Speaker of the Lok Sabha in 1996. He was the first tribal, that too from the Northeast, the first MP belonging to the Opposition and the youngest person elected unanimously to head the lower house of Parliament. He was elected to the Lok Sabha no less than nine consecutive times between 1977 and 2006 and has also been the CM of Meghalaya.

This publication is essentially a collection of speeches (many delivered in Parliament) and lectures by Sangma on a variety of subjects, reflecting the many government positions he’s held, including as the Minister in charge of the Labour, Coal and Information and Broadcasting ministries. Among the speeches is one he delivered at midnight on the 50th anniversary of India’s independence. A substantial chunk contains laudatory messages from well-known politicians.

Sangma, with his trademark mischievous smile, appeared too affable to do what he did in 1999. Together with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar, he got expelled from the Congress and became a founding member of the Nationalist Congress Party on the issue of a “nationalised citizen” (read Sonia Gandhi) being “projected as a potential Prime Minister of India”.

The hagiographic profile in the book asserts that Sangma defended his action on principles and “without personal rancour” on the ground that “manning the high office of the head of the government was not merely an exercise in fulfilling legal requirements”. He says he is “particularly worried about the institution of the prime minister” without mentioning Manmohan Singh and his strong feelings about why “the prime minister being subjugated to an extra-constitutional ‘super’ authority is a dangerous precedent”. He adds that “it would be in the fitness of things” if the PM is elected by Lok Sabha MPs and that we “should also start thinking and debating the desirability and possibility of electing the prime minister directly by the people” prefacing his remarks by re-emphasising that he has no “personal bias”.

What is significant is that which has not been elaborated upon in the book, such as the political compulsions that led to the NCP aligning itself with its parent party after an acrimonious parting of ways, the circumstances that led to the NCP and the Congress forming a government in Maharashtra and the split that Sangma engineered in the NCP in 2004. The last development reportedly took place because Sangma was unhappy with Pawar’s growing proximity to Sonia. After losing a tussle over the NCP’s election symbol, Sangma merged his NCP faction with the Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee, formed the Nationalist Trinamool Congress and was, thereafter, elected to the Lok Sabha in 2004. He resigned from his Lok Sabha seat in October 2005 and got reelected as a NCP candidate in a by-election in February 2006. He then resigned from the Lok Sabha in March 2008 to contest assembly elections in Meghalaya, where his son Conrad is currently leader of the Opposition. By 2009, Sangma was back in the NCP and his daughter Agatha is now the youngest minister of state in the current government.

If one is seeking explanations as to why this diminutive politician acted in the manner he did, they are not to be found in this book. For that, we’ll have to wait for Sangma’s autobiography.

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