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Sunday, May 26, 2024

P A Sangma fondly remembered on his 76th birth anniversary

‘Purno was first and only Pan national tribal leader and none after him’ says Shekhar Gupta


The 76th birth anniversary of Garo Hill’s most famous statesman and political leader, Purno Agitok Sangma, was celebrated on September 1 with rich floral tributes by thousands of his supporters, and a special program was held at the Tura district auditorium to remember him with an array of intellectuals and academicians witnessing a scintillating talk by one of India’s most prolific journalists, Shekhar Gupta.

Shekhar Gupta, the founder, editor, and chief executive officer of The Print, India’s fastest-growing digital news platform known for its non-hyphenated journalism, was on his first ever visit to the Garo Hills and was the guest speaker for the 7th P. A. Sangma Memorial Lecture on the theme “What politicians can teach us about leadership and management”.

“We have never really had a national tribal leader because usually tribal leaders end up being leaders of their own tribe. They don’t become national leaders who speak for tribal rights and others across the country. But Purno Sangma was different,” said Shekhar Gupta before a jam-packed district auditorium on a hot and humid September morning.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma, his brother James, sister and Tura MP Agatha K. Sangma, and their mother and widow of Purno Sangma, Mrs. Soradini K. Sangma, attended this special event with their families.

Earlier in the morning, the family visited the Tura Catholic Cemetery to light candles and pay floral tributes to the grave of late P. A. Sangma.

“He (Purno) rose to that national stature and was continuing to rise. I felt India finally had a pan-national tribal leader in Purno Sangma who would be recognized even by the tribals of east central India, where there is a lot of economic distress and problems, including naxalism. Purno Sangma would have filled that gap or void. Because none of us saw him just as a leader of the Northeast or only of the Garos.

But his passing was a loss to India and its tribal community. Even till today, India does not have a pan-national tribal,” laments Shekar Gupta, who has covered the North East since 1981, when he was the correspondent for The Indian Express based in Shillong.

Gupta reminds the gathering that India is the only country in the world with the highest tribal population. Eight percent of India’s population, or 12 crore people, happen to be tribals in our country.

Turning to Late Sangma’s daughter Agatha, who has been representing the Tura Lok Sabha seat after her father for three terms, Shekhar Gupta said, “Agatha has big shoes to fill,” given the stature of her late father.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad K. Sangma termed his father’s legacy one that always put his people first.

Conrad K. Sangma

“He will always be known as a leader who put his people first. This was the guiding principle that influenced all of his decision-making, and through these principles, he influenced my siblings and me to join politics,” said Conrad Sangma.

“He is more than the infrastructure built in his name; his way of life, his ethics, and his values will forever immortalize his memory in our hearts and guide us in our journey,” added the chief minister.

The role of tribal leaders in transforming India

Shekhar Gupta recalls how tribal leaders such as Late P. A. Sangma and another tribal leader, Jaipal Singh Munda, left an indelible mark on the country.

While Purno Sangma made the North East proud with his leadership roles, he was also the first and perhaps only Speaker who successfully tamed unruly MPs during Parliament Sessions.

“Purno was by far the most effective Speaker of Parliament,” he said.

As a speaker, Purno Sangma knew the vast powers wielded by the chair, and he put them to good use. Some MPs, like Pappu Yadav and others, were very vocal in stalling parliament, but Sangma was able to discipline them, either through cajoling or the threat of eviction. The eviction of Mamata Bannerjee from the house for repeated disruptions is one example of how Sangma used his power to bring decorum to the house.

“Like Sangma, there is also another tribal leader to whom we owe gratitude that the country did not become a country with universal prohibition.

Jaipal Singh Munda was a tribal leader from Ranchi in Jharkhand who was adopted by a Christian missionary family and went on to complete his education at one of England’s top universities.

Munda was selected to join the prestigious Indian Civil Services (now IAS) but rejected it to become a hockey player. He went on to be part of the Indian hockey team at the Olympics, where India won its first ever gold medal. To date, every hockey team representing our country is represented by tribals from the east-central part of India (Jharkhand).

By virtue of his success on the field, Munda was selected to be a member of the Constituent Assembly that was drafting the country’s constitution.

“There was a debate in the Constituent Assembly on whether India should become a universal prohibition country. It was Munda who stood up and said you cannot have universal prohibition because, for us tribals, it’s a way of life, not a vice. You cannot impose your way of life on us.

So, in a lighter mode, we owe it to a tribal who saved us from the tyranny of universal prohibition because we know that it has not worked anywhere in the world,” remarked Shekhar Gupta.

Regrettably, Purno didn’t become the first tribal leader of India.

A consensus that eluded political parties across the political spectrum led to India missing out on having its first tribal president more than a decade ago.

Shekar Gupta recalled the building up of the political battle for India’s next president—the 13th president—in 2012, with the ruling Congress pitting its senior leader Pranab Mukherjee against the united opposition candidate Purno A. Sangma.

“I regret that Purno Sangma did not become the President of India because he would have perfectly fitted into that role and brought about a change. But at that time Pranab Mukherjee was having internal issues within the Congress,” mentions Shekhar Gupta, giving an indication as to why the Congress high command was keen to push out their rebel leader into the presidency.

The rest of India needs to stop looking at the North East as just a piece of territory.

Shekar Gupta says if India needs to remain united, the rest of the country must stop looking at the north-east as just a piece of territory.

The rest of India needs to give up that insecurity they have about the north-east and stop treating it as just a piece of territory. Assam is the pivot around which all of the north-east works, and I believe if India is to ever break up, it will start from the north-east,” warns Shekhar Gupta.

He added that the one plus point for the country is that everyone in the north-east feels very well connected to India, and that should be worked upon to bridge the gap.

“People from the rest of India need to come more often to the north east and see for themselves the way of life,” said Gupta, mentioning how the north east is now a major human resources center with thousands of young men and women working in some of the biggest cities of the country in fields ranging from technology to communication, among others.

He also cited the impact people from the Northeast have had on the rest of the country and mentioned that the biggest journalist in the country, Arnab Goswami, hails from the Northeast.

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