India’s presidency and a daughter’s defiance ignored … for now
Party politics is pragmatic if nothing else: if you don’t do what the party wants, you’re out … unless you’re Agatha Sangma.
She is the daughter of Purno Sangma, former speaker of India’s lower house of Parliament, who was forced to resign from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) after refusing his boss’s order to withdraw his bid to become India’s next president. The NCP, a key ally of the Congress party, which rules India under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a coalition government, backs the Congress nominee for the post, ex-Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Agatha Sangma, an NCP member and representative of the Tura constituency in the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya, is:
- India’s youngest member of parliament, elected in 2008 at the age of 27
- the youngest ever junior minister (state and rural development, 2009)
She invited the ire of her bosses when she announced her support of her father’s candidacy in public forums and accompanied him to meet the chief minister of the state of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, to seek support for his presidential run. The poll is on July 19.
Her comment to reporters on why she supports her father instead of the party’s choice sounds like rhetoric. She said that it is time the country got a president from one of India’s “tribes.” Since her father’s name was proposed by a tribal forum, which included her, Agatha Sangma’s support should not be seen as coming from the government or the NCP.
Indian political insiders don’t generally react well to such statements, and they didn’t this time. Her party bosses “censured” her, but did not expel her. Why? Precedent suggests that this is not a typical case.
Somnath Chatterjee, ex-speaker of India’s lower house of parliament, was expelled from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in 2008 after he declined to leave his post rather than presiding over a trust vote of the Manmohan Singh government over an India-U.S. nuclear power/weapons deal.
About four months ago, Trinamool Congress party leader Mamata Banerjee forced the resignation of Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi after he violated the party line by raising passenger fares.
Circumstances might be different for the NCP. The only other state outside Maharashtra where they have any notable presence is Meghalaya, and here they have to depend on the Sangma family, who say they represent the Garo tribe, for garnering the votes and the seats essential to maintain their national party status.
Purno Sangma’s two sons are also members of the NCP, and are legislators in the Meghalaya assembly. His eldest son, Conrad Sangma, is leader of the opposition in Meghalaya, which has a Congress government.
The Congress party that runs the show in the coalition government in New Delhi may have its own reasons that seem to have stopped it short of showing Agatha the exit.
Axing Agatha would have given Purno Sangma a free boost to his campaign for president and he could have gone around the country drumming up tribal sentiment with his daughter as exhibit No. 1 in the gallery of victims of petty Indian politics.
Agatha also is everything that the Congress party needs — in one package. She represents youth, women, the historically neglected northeast states and tribal communities. It would be difficult to find a replacement with a similar combination.
The question is: will it last? July 19 will be the day when we discover whether there was no axe to begin with or whether it was just taking a really long time to swing.