PA Sangma: Sagacity was the mark of first tribal Lok Sabha speaker (Obituary)

New Delhi, March 4 (IANS) It was to the sagacity of his stint as a member of parliament for many years from Tura constituency in northeastern Meghalaya that the 68- year-old veteran parliamentarian Purno Agitok Sangma rose to become the country’s first tribal Lok Sabha speaker — from 1996 to 1998 — an era when the concept of coalition politics was becoming a reality.

During his stint as the speaker, Sangma had to manage the house with three coalition governments — headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral.

But he still managed the tenure without any controversy as he could always use his gifted sense of humour. Former prime minister, late P.V. Narasimha Rao once commended him for his “sagacity” in conducting the proceedings of the 11th Lok Sabha.

The tribal leader donned many caps — of a lecturer, a lawyer and a journalist — before he was catapulted to national politics. He was also the chief minister of Meghalaya from 1988 to 1990.

Sangma was born on September 1, 1947 to a Garo tribe family in Chapathi village of West Garo Hills in Meghalaya. He passed away in Delhi on Friday after a brief illness.

A humble politician, Sangma used to mix wit and wisdom to conduct the house with flair even as the new dawn of coalition politics had made the job a bit more difficult with frequent rancour and disruptions.

He was elected nine times to the Lok Sabha to represent his people in the sixth, seventh, eighth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and the current 16th Lok Sabha.

Most members and politicians from across the country have often hailed him for his fairness in conducting the proceedings with transparency and parliamentarian acumen.

“Sangmaji also understood the people’s sensitivity. He had disallowed G.G. Swell (Shillong MP) to raise the issue of beef eating in the house more than once,” former Nagaland parliamentarian Chingwang Konyak once said.

From 1991 to 1996, Sangma served as a trusted lieutenant of then prime minister Rao and was credited for stewarding ministries like labour and information & broadcasting.

However, critics also found fault with his “ambitions” when he joined compatriots like Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar of the Congress to raise party president Sonia Gandhi’s foreign-origin issue in 1999.

He, Pawar and Anwar were later expelled from the Congress, thus bringing an end to Sangma’s stint in the party that he had joined as a youth activist in 1972.

Later, the troika floated the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

A graduate from St. Anthony’s High School, Shillong, a Don Bosco-run institution, Sangma floated the National People’s Party in 2013.

Sangma was also the candidate of the then opposition BJP-led NDA and some regional parties for the 2012 presidential polls when he contested unsuccessfully against his “senior friend” of many years Pranab Mukherjee.

He is survived among others by daughter Agatha Sangma, also a former MP from Tura and a junior minister in former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s government.

His son Conrad Sangma also joined politics and was a minister in the Meghalaya cabinet earlier.

(Nirendra Dev can be contacted at nirendra.n@ians.in)

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