Millennium Post

Sangma’s death wish

After reaching the highest point of his political career as the Lok Sabha speaker, it has been a downhill journey for P A Sangma, which has now led him to the lowest point as a result of his humiliating defeat in the presidential poll. For a man as intelligent as him, the reason for choosing a suicidal course is difficult to understand. Because of his seeming death wish where politics is concerned, he has been left high and dry with even his own party, the Nationalist Congress Party, deserting him.

It should have been obvious to him right from the start that his original sponsors – Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalithaa – were playing their own games without any deep interest in advancing Sangma’s career. While the Odisha chief minister has been trying to shed the image of being a state-level leader like Mulayam Singh Yadav or Mamata Banerjee by trying to clamber on to the national stage, as on the NCTC issue, the Tamil Nadu chief minister is driven by the need to needle the Congress, which is an ally of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and to edge closer to the BJP at the centre in anticipation of the post-2014 scenario.

Their interest, therefore, in projecting Sangma as a tribal leader was a simulated one. For Sangma himself, the new identity was a curious one. It is not one which he had flaunted earlier. He has always had a non-sectarian image because of his urbanity. Perhaps an inner awareness of playing a losing game made him clutch at straws. It is not known if the BJP looked upon him as a vanavasi or a forest-dweller, which is its term for adivasis or original inhabitants of India, since an admission of the presence of a pre-Aryan population in the country would undermine the saffron group’s case for branding only Muslims and Christians as aliens.

In fact, it now clear that this transparent trick did not deceive the electoral college. It is also doubtful whether Sangma will continue to regard himself as an adivasi or return to his earlier non-sectarian ways. But, he must now regret that he has made an even bigger mistake than the one in 1999 when he left the Congress in Sharad Pawar’s company to set up the NCP. His boast at the time of the NCP becoming the ‘real’ Congress in course of time has been proved wrong. But, had he stayed on in the NCP and not indulged in the latest misadventure, he would have continued to be a widely respected and well-liked person. Now, he is at a loose end.

Yet, when the BJP chose to support his presidential bid as the party’s second choice after A P J Abdul Kalam refused its offer, Sangma should have known that the road ahead would be rocky. First, the BJP’s proximity would taint him with the saffron hue, which was one of the reasons why Mamata Banerjee did not support him. It would also be a smudge which would not be easy to erase. Secondly, a link with the BJP is of little long-term help because the party itself is at sixes and sevens, patently unable to exploit the growing anti-incumbency sentiments against the Congress.

If Sangma had kept his links only with Patnaik, there was a chance for him to play a meaningful role in the Third Front which the Odisha chief minister apparently wants to set up.  He may still do so, but his reputation has taken a beating. Besides, he no longer has a party with him and is, therefore, a lone ranger, which is not a very pleasing condition in the minefield of politics.

It is possible that Sangma took the fateful leap in the dark because he felt as much at a loss in the NCP as he did in the Congress since he never rose beyond the number two position. Nor was there any chance of his doing so in the foreseeable future. Like most other parties – the Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, BSP – the NCP is a one-person outfit and its life span is linked with Pawar’s.

Having been a successful speaker, when there was occasional kite-flying in the media about the possibility of his becoming the Prime Minister, Sangma probably felt stifled. He did not want to be a Tariq Anwar, who has faded away, or a Praful Patel. Hence, the wild shot at the presidential post.

While there is nothing wrong in being ambitious, a realistic assessment of his prospects should have told him how weak his two crutches were. Patnaik is still a babe in the woods where national politics is concerned – he even faced a toppling threat at home during a trip abroad – and the leadership tussles in the BJP between the prime ministerial aspirants – L K Advani, Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj – have made the party wobbly. Sangma, therefore, could not but lose. (IPA)
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