Former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma is confident of winning the Presidential election despite UPA's Presidential nominee Pranab Mukherjee emerging stronger with more support. Sangma, however, feels he will win with the help of conscience votes. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Sangma said he had never lost any election so far and would win this one too.
Following is the full transcript of Rajdeep Sardesai's interview with Purno Agitok Sangma:
Rajdeep Sardesai: Joining us now is Purno Agitok Sangma, the man who will be taking on Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential race. Appreciate you're joining us Mr Sangma. Let me at the very start ask you is this a token fight sir? Given the fact that the numbers are so heavily stacked in favour of Pranab Mukherjee, would you concede that this is a token fight, you're almost certain to lose but you're determined to fight?
PA Sangma: It is not a token fight. It is a very, very serious fight. The election of the Government of India is governed by Article 55 of the Constitution of India. Article 55 is very, very clear. The election shall be by a secret ballot. So where is the question of numbers here at the moment? The question of numbers doesn't arise at all at this stage.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Are you saying therefore that you are appealing for a conscience vote and cross voting? That's what you're counting on? It's not about which party decides to support which individual?
PA Sangma: Secret ballot means what? It means conscience vote. So it is conscience, which is very important. In 1969, if you remember when VV Giri contested Mr Sanjeeva Reddy, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi appealed for a conscience vote and that is what worked. Mr Abdul Kalam, when he made the statement that he's not contesting, he said 'my conscience doesn't allow', so it is conscience which is very important. The Presidential election has to be conducted through conscience.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So you're appealing in a sense for a conscience vote Mr Sangma, but even the NDA and the Left are split in the race. The fact is that the number, the gap between you and Pranab Mukherjee at the moment is very wide and even the NDA is split and the Left is split. The CPM says it will support Pranab Mukherjee, JD(U) and Shiv Sena say they'll support Pranab Mukherjee.
PA Sangma: The very fact that there is a split in almost all political parties shows that this election is a very serious election. It's not as smooth as the Congress is claiming it to be. Why there should be a split in the Left, why there should be a split in the NDA or other parties? What does it mean? It means people are taking this election so seriously, they're giving such a deep thought to it, which is a welcome development. I like it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But Mr Sangma, even the NDA is split. Shouldn't the entire NDA have supported you? In the absence of full NDA support, aren't you in a sense being put up their as a token candidate because the BJP wants some kind of a contest against Pranab Mukherjee. Some would say they are sacrificing PA Sangma.
PA Sangma: Well, Mr Pranab Mukherjee is also not getting an undivided UPA. Mamata Banerjee is very much a part of the UPA and she is not supporting Pranab as yet, which means even the UPA is split, not only the NDA.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But she's not supporting you sir. Mamata Banerjee is not supporting you.
PA Sangma: She has not made up her mind yet. I'm constantly in touch with her. I hope to meet her in the next couple of days.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Are you still hopeful of her support?
PA Sangma: Absolutely. I'm very much hopeful of her support; very, very much.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Sangma, there'll be those who will call you opportunist. When you wanted your daughter Agatha to be in the government of the UPA, you made peace with Sonia Gandhi. Now when it suits you, you tie up with the BJP. How do you respond to this?
PA Sangma: Not at all. You see my daughter is the Member of Parliament for the second term. She's a Union Minister, she's a very mature person. She knows how to think about herself and how to decide about her own future. Everybody has the right to think about their own destiny and future.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But will your daughter campaign for you or will she stay with the UPA?
PA Sangma: I don't think it is necessary for her to campaign for me when Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN will campaign for me.
Rajdeep Sardesai: No, no the point is she is your daughter, I'm not your son. Shouldn't your daughter have left the NCP with you, if this is a matter of prestige, if this is a matter of the Northeast, if this is a matter of the adivasis' sentiments, why is Agatha Sangma in the government?
PA Sangma: She has not made up her mind as yet. There is still a lot of time left. But what I'm saying is I'm not going to influence her. She should take her own decision. She has not taken it yet, there's still time for her.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Somewhere Mr Sangma, how would you respond to those who say that over the last 12 years, you made a number of somersaults. You are the person who raised the foreign origin issue, helped set up the NCP and today you left the NCP saying you're constricted there. Today you're playing the adivasi card and not the rashtravadi card. You’ve even joined the Trinamool Congress at one point and then left it. How do you respond to those who say you've made too many political somersaults?
PA Sangma: You see I'm consistent with my principles. In order to uphold the principle that I'm committed to, I can find out different ways. There's nothing wrong in finding out different ways.
Rajdeep Sardesai: What is that principle?
PA Sangma: The principle is to be a nationalist, to uplift the position of the poor people. Just before this interview, your news channel said that today the rupee is at an all time low again. The economy of India is sinking. The corruption and scams coming up before us are shameful.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But till day before yesterday you were part of the same UPA, now suddenly you're singing an NDA tune. Why didn't you raise it over the last couple of years?
PA Sangma: I'm sorry Rajdeep you're not well informed. I'm not a part of the UPA. I'm a member of the Meghalaya legislative assembly. And in Meghalaya, there is a Congress government.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But your party NCP was part of the UPA. Why didn't you raise these issues when you were a part of the NCP.
PA Sangma: I'm not a part of UPA in Delhi. I'm a member in Meghalaya. In Meghalaya, NCP is a recognised opposition party and Congress is the government there. Everyday, every single minute, we fight with the Congress in Meghalaya. So I've never been a part of the UPA.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So you're saying that your battle has been with the Congress for quite some time. Ironically, of course I come back to the fact that your daughter is very much a part of the UPA. So it seems that there is one politics in Delhi and one for Meghalaya?
PA Sangma: Not at all, my daughter is an individual. She is a politician by her own right. I'm a politician by my own right. There are several - should I take about Kruparani, why people of the same are in different political parties. There are so many examples of that.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Mr Sangma, the bigger question is that you've said you're contesting the election to promote the adivasis, to see an adivasi in the Rashtrapati Bhawan. Till today, I've never seen you play the adivasi card. You are seen as a leader who rose above the tribal card. Why suddenly after all these years in public life, are you paying the tribal card?
PA Sangma: You see I was elected to the Lok Sabha nine times. I could have been elected to Parliament for another tenth time, 11th time and so on and I have no doubt about that. Yet I left Parliament of India, knowing fully well that I could have been elected 3-4 times more. Why? Because in the process of doing everything for the country as a whole, I could not pay attention to my own state Meghalaya and I could not pay attention to the tribals, and, therefore, I decided to leave Parliament and opted for Assembly, so that I can confine myself to work for the North-East, for the tribals and for Meghalaya. There is a stage in life. At one stage you do something, at another stage you do another thing.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So Mr Sangma do you believe that if you get the Presidentship, which seems highly unlikely at the moment given the numbers, that it'll change the lives of tribals or it'll suddenly bring the North-East in focus. Shouldn't this have happened in all the years you spent in public life? Why only now are you pursuing these issues, which some would say you should have pursued much earlier Sir?
PA Sangma: You see by a tribal being in Raisina Hills, the kind of confidence and hope it will give to the tribal community, you can't imagine. This is precisely what I'm trying. It does not mean that I'm going to be the President of India only for the tribals, not at all. The President of India is the President of India - a President for all the people of India. But what we're saying is that in this composite society of India, where we are looking after every section of the society and giving them recognition, what we're saying is that give us recognition also, to the tribals also.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You seem to be suggesting that a Pranab Mukherjee will not be able to achieve that. Pranab Mukherjee with whom you've had a great relationship in the past will not be able to reach out to the North-East and the tribal community in a manner that you can?
PA Sangma: No, it's not like that. I have a lot of respect for Pranabda, you said he 'was' your great friend. He was, he is and he will be my good friend, but even Pranabda, to be very frank, like me perhaps could not give his special attention to Bengal. Today some section of the people is asking what did Pranab do for West Bengal compared to Barkatda. When Barkatda was a minister in the Centre, the kind of things that he did for West Bengal, people blame, it's not my point, that Pranab Mukherjee, in a good position did not do enough for Bengal.
Rajdeep Sardesai: I'm going to ask you again, do you feel that you're being in a sense made into a sacrificial lamb by the likes of Naveen Patnaik, Jayalalithaa and the BJP or do you believe that they genuinely believe in the causes that you believe in?
PA Sangma: I'm very, very grateful to Naveen Patnaikji and Madam Jayalalithaa for their genuine concern for the tribal people. I have talked to them a number of times, I'm talking to them everyday. The kind of commitment they have for the welfare of tribal people, I'm grateful to them.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But are you not worried that they are pushing you in a losing cause?
PA Sangma: Not at all. I said it is a very serious fight. And you just wait. The contest has started from yesterday afternoon only when the BJP decided to back my candidature. Don't come to any conclusion now.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You're saying you will rely on the conscience vote in particular to try and swing votes. How would you react to those who say that Mr Sangma wants his 30 days of fame, that you'll get your headlines for the next 30 days and then, who knows what happens next.
PA Sangma: Rajdeep, I have never lost any election, please remember. I have fought nine times for the Lok Sabha and have won and everytime my margin has improved. I have fought twice for Assembly, I won. I have not lost any election so far.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But where are the numbers going to be made up this time?
PA Sangma: I'm not worried about the numbers on paper. As I told you I depend on conscience vote.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You depend on conscience vote.
PA Sangma: I believe in the conscience of the country.
Rajdeep Sardesai: That's the headline you're giving us, you depend on the conscience vote, but my final question to you Sir. If you were to lose, will you then return to the NCP or are you now committed to being a part of the NDA or being a part of a Third Front with the likes of Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalithaa?
PA Sangma: I will not lose this election and I'm always grateful to the people who have helped me. I will continue to be grateful to Mr Naveen Patnaik, Madam Jayalalithaa and all those who are supporting me and backing me.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Will you ever return back to the NCP or is that a closed chapter?
PA Sangma: Let me repeat, I have not lost any election so far.
Rajdeep Sardesai: No you're not answering my question. I'm asking you if you are committed to being a part of a Third Front? Is it time for another political somersault?
PA Sangma: I have answered your question, I will not lose this election.
Rajdeep Sardesai: You will not lose this election. You will campaign around the country. For you this is not a token fight.
PA Sangma: Not at all.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Okay Mr Purno Agitok Sangma, I appreciate you're joining us and telling us where you stand in your battle for Presidency. Thank You very much for joining us Sir.