Sangma bats for smaller states (Election Special)

Tura (Meghalaya), April 4: Former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Agitok Sangma, a nine-time MP who is returning to national politics through the Lok Sabha election, supports the demand for creation of smaller states across the country.

“I am in support of creation of smaller states to ensure peace and development. I am supporting the demand of separate Gorkhaland, Bodoland, Karbi Anglong state, Bundelkhand, and Vidarbha,” Sangma told IANS at his residence in Tura in the western part of Meghalaya.

The National People’s Party (NPP) supremo, who returned to the national political scene by seeking the mandate from the Tura constituency, is fighting the Lok Sabha polls on the plank of a separate Garoland to be carved out of Meghalaya.

Sangma’s foray into politics began in 1977 when he won the Lok Sabha election from Tura on the Congress ticket. He went on to win the Lok Sabha elections in 1984, 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004 besides the by-election in 2006. In 2004, he contested as a Trinamool Congress candidate.

For a brief period – 1988 to 1990 – he was Meghalaya chief minister and was also the candidate of the opposition in the last presidential election against Pranab Mukherjee.

After returning to state politics in 2008, he vacated the Tura parliamentary seat for his daughter Agatha K. Sangma, who also won the election. Agatha, the youngest parliamentarian in the current Lok Sabha, quit the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to join her father and the NPP. Agatha has decided not to contest the April 9 elections, making room for her father who had earlier represented the constituency.

“For long, I have also been pressurised by various sections of people, be it members from political parties and civil society groups, to lead the movement for a separate Garoland through a political leadership,” Sangma said.

“I understand the inner feelings of my tribesmen (Garo) for a separate Garoland state and, therefore, I accepted to make Garoland my main election plank apart from other critical issues in terms of infrastructure and social development.”

Sangma, whose party NPP has already stitched an alliance with the BJP-led NDA, advocated setting up another state reorganisation committee to look into the small state demand.

“In view of various groups demanding creation of smaller states, the new government which will replace the UPA (government) will appoint a second state reorganisation committee and, therefore, I sincerely feel that the people of Garo Hills cannot miss this opportunity,” the former Lok Sabha speaker said.

Moreover, he said creation of a separate Garoland can be the only solution for peace in the insurgency-ravaged districts of the Garo Hills region.

“My formula for peace in Garo Hills is that rebels (fighting for Garoland state) should give up arms and join the mainstream and continue their fight for Garoland through peaceful democratic means,” he said.

In fact, the Garo Hills State Movement Committee (GHSMC) demanding creation of a separate Garoland state in western Meghalaya has urged voters in the Tura constituency to vote for the candidate whose party lists the Garoland demand in its election manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections.

“We appeal to the supporters for the creation of Garoland state to exercise their franchise for the political party having the Garoland demand in its election manifesto,” GHSMC chairman Nikman Ch. Marak said.

The GHSMC — a conglomeration of several Garo organisations, including the Garo National Council (GNC), a regional political party — has been demanding the creation of Garoland state encompassing the five district headquarters of Garo Hills.

However, Congress candidate Daryl William Cheran Momin downplayed Sangma’s poll plank issue saying that “it is just an election issue to woo voters”.

“I don’t think one MP (member of parliament) alone can decide for creation of Garoland,” Momin said, whose election plank is for vote for change and development in the Garo hills region.

Moreover, he said the Meghalaya assembly had rejected a resolution moved by lone Garo National Council member Clifford R. Marak for the creation of Garoland state in the western part of the state. Meghalaya became an autonomous state in 1971 and a full-fledged state Jan 21, 1972.

(Raymond R. Kharmujai can be contacted at rrkharmujai@gmail.com)

IANS