BJP-backed Presidential nominee and former Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader PA Sangma has said that he believes that although he may not have the numbers as yet, God is with him and that he will win the election by a miracle.
Speaking on Devil's Advocate with Karan Thapar, the leader from the North-East said that his desire to be a part of the Presidential race stemmed from his desire to assert his rights as a citizen of India and as a tribal.
Below is an edited transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. Given that he has little chance of winning, why is Purno Sangma determined to contest the presidential elections? That’s the key question I shall ask Purno Sangma himself. Mr Sangma I have spoken to many people and practically all of them, including many of your sponsors, say that you have very little chance of winning. Then, why are you contesting the presidential elections?
PA Sangma: On what basis people come to a conclusion that there is a little chance?
Karan Thapar: Can I answer that?
PA Sangma: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Even today, more than 60 per cent have decided to support Pranab Mukherjee. In those circumstances if you stand, you would have lost even before the first vote is counted.
PA Sangma: Well, voting is not going to be on the floor of Lok Sabha where three-line whip applies, where Article 56 applies. Here Article 55 of the Constitution of India applies, which says the election shall be by secret ballot. So, how have you started counting votes when it is going to be a secret ballot?
Karan Thapar: Mr Sangma you are assuming that people are going to vote, not one or two or three people, differently to the way party suggests, but in a massive way people are going to defect from their party’s position, it’s impossible and you know it. You can’t get the size of conscious vote you need to overturn a 62 per cent majority in Pranab Mukherjee’s favour?
PA Sangma: It has happened. Look at a history. In 1969 it had happened, why can’t it happen now?
Karan Thapar: Those were very different circumstances where the prime minister of the day, was secretly if not publicly, revolting against her party. Nothing of the sort is happening this time, there is no comparison with ’69.
PA Sangma: Mr Karan election is a different game. I have never lost an election, I have won nine times the Lok Sabha election, two times the Assembly elections. So, I know what election means.
Karan Thapar: But there is always a first time to lose and I am putting to you that even Mamata Banerjee, who is adamant about not supporting Pranab, is not even prepared to meet you. That’s the extent of the problem that she won’t even meet you.
PA Sangma: How do you know that?
Karan Thapar: It’s all over the front page of The Hindustan Times.
PA Sangma: Hindustan Times, they didn’t say they have talked to Mamata Banerjee. It is just a guess, just a speculation. I have requested for time and I am waiting for a reply.
Karan Thapar: But you still haven’t got the time.
PA Sangma: I will, you can’t say now. There is still time. The last date for filing the nomination is 30th and the voting is on the 19th of the next month, so it is almost one month away.
Karan Thapar: Her party is making it perfectly clear that they will prefer to abstain but they won’t vote for you.
PA Sangma: Things will change everyday, you just watch.
Karan Thapar: This is just hope that’s all. You are hoping against hope.
PA Sangma: Yeah.
Karan Thapar: But hoping against hope doesn’t lead to anything more but to prayer and wishful thinking.
PA Sangma: Day before yesterday, all the news channels were showing that PA Sangma has only six per cent votes, right? But day before yesterday when the BJP started announcing their backing and some of their allies started talking about it, suddenly from six per cent it has gone up to 28-30 per cent.
Karan Thapar: And that’s where you are going to stop.
PA Sangma: Not at all.
Karan Thapar: So you are seriously telling me that Purno Sangma has a chance of winning?
PA Sangma: Yes, you just see.
Karan Thapar: Mr Sangma let me put it to you, people are fond of you, they indulge you, but they are laughing at the fact that you believe that you can win. Nobody believes it, but you.
PA Sangma: Yes, many people laugh at my height also. I don’t mind, if people laugh at it.
Karan Thapar: Are you a little worried that by standing in the face of such odds and they are incredible odds, you might make yourself a laughing stock?
PA Sangma: Not at all, not at all. Mr Thapar you will just see how things move, politics move very fast. What happened day before yesterday, a designated Prime Minister of Pakistan had to suddenly drop and some unexpected man took over. You know this is politics and in politics anything can happen.
Karan Thapar: Mr Sangma, miracles and the unprecedented don’t happen everyday. You are really depending on a miracle, that’s the truth. Isn’t it?
PA Sangma: Yes. Miracles do happen in this world. It happens, I believe in miracles. You are very right. I don’t know how you read me so correctly.
Karan Thapar: So, you believe a miracle will happen and you will be the President?
PA Sangma: I do believe in miracles. I think that’s good enough.
Karan Thapar: All right, let’s then leave that to god, it’s not long before we’ll see whether miracles happen or not. Let’s now look at the contradictions in your position.
PA Sangma: Somebody came day before yesterday and they told me, sir be careful the corporate body in this country is with Mr Pranab Mukherjee.
Karan Thapar: You are going from miracles to conspiracy.
PA Sangma: No, no. So, I told him all right. You know the corporate sector may be with somebody but can you tell whose side god is. He became nervous. That is what matters most.
Karan Thapar: You’re saying god is with Purno Sangma?
PA Sangma: Yes.
Karan Thapar: You are sure of that?
PA Sangma: I am sure.
Karan Thapar: You are sure god won’t resent it?
PA Sangma: I am standing for principles, I am standing for democracy, I am standing for the welfare of poor people. I am very clear in my conscience.
Karan Thapar: All right, let’s then move on from your winning or losing. Depending on miracles, we’ll soon know a miracle happens or not. You are saying you are standing on principles, let me point out the contradictions in these principles you are standing for. You are standing on behalf of tribals, you are a practising Christian and yet you are seeking support from the BJP, whose position on the Khandhamal killings, Dang killings, the massacre of Graham Staines, is anything but supportive of tribals and Christians, how do you explain that contradiction?
PA Sangma: You see this is a large democracy. India is a large democracy. Congress is the largest party, BJP is the second largest party and in such huge political parties, few incidents here and there do happen, will happen. But you can’t judge it by that.
Karan Thapar: Mr Sangma are you reducing the killings in Kandhamal, the killings in Dang, the Graham Staines, as a few incidents?
PA Sangma: No, I am not.
Karan Thapar: Are you forgiving the BJP?
PA Sangma: I am not. Where is the proof that the BJP has done it?
Karan Thapar: You know the manner in which the BJP responded.
PA Sangma: Don’t jump to that kind of conclusions. Don’t make such kinds of wild allegations. You see, the BJP is a political party which has ruled this country for many years and which will rule this country in the future also.
Karan Thapar: Graham Staines happened when BJP was ruling. Many Christians and tribals were deeply offended by the BJP’s response. Today, you are standing in their name but you seem to have forgotten the BJP’s position. I will put it to you again. The fact that you are taking the BJP’s support, in the eyes of many people, contradicts what you are standing for.
PA Sangma: When I met Mr Nitin Gadkari, the BJP President, the first thing he told me was, “Mr Sangma, do you know, in Goa, in the recently concluded Assembly elections, we have nine Catholic Christian MLAs…won…won.” So, he told me, “Believe me Mr Sangma, we are changing.”
Karan Thapar: Well are they? Dilip Singh Judeo, who was the BJP MP at the time said that Dara Singh who was punished by the courts for killing Graham Staines was totally innocent. That’s the BJP’s position.
PA Sangma: Mr Karan, don’t go for individual actions of people. There are good people… there are bad people. And you can’t judge like that.
Karan Thapar:You are being generous to the BJP. I will accept that. Others may have a different point of view.
PA Sangma: Of course, your programme is Devil’s Advocate. So you have to be devilish, making all these allegations.
Karan Thapar: Let me come to a second problem. You say you are proud of getting support from Jayalalithaa. But have you forgotten that in 2002, she brought in the anti-conversion Act. She believes that Christian Church is guilty of converting Hindus by force, fraud or inducement. Have you forgotten that or have you forgiven her?
PA Sangma: Look, religious problems are everywhere. Look at the UK. The UK law says that no Christian other than an Anglican can become the PM of the country. Tony Blair’s wife is a Catholic. Blair did not become Catholic because he wanted to be PM. The moment he left office, he became a Catholic. The United States of America… a totally Christian country… Except for John F Kennedy, no Catholic has become the president of the US. It is either Baptist or Protestant… Everywhere… So these things happen everywhere.
Karan Thapar: You are right regarding the UK and the US. I don’t deny that. But the point I am questioning is this: The Catholic Church of India was deeply offended by Jayalalithaa’s anti-conversion law. That affected your Church. Today you say you are proud of the fact that you have her support. I just put it to you. Is that a contradiction? Have you gone back on your principles?
PA Sangma: You see forgiveness is the essence of Christianity. We as Christians do not keep things permanently. We try to convince other people to our point of view. The BJD and the AIADMK’s support for my candidature is going to be good for our country’s secularism.
Karan Thapar: Are you implying that you can change Jayalalithaa’s thinking on this critical issue?
PA Sangma: I don’t think she is still thinking that way. I don’t think so. How many chief ministers in this country hold Christmas parties. Jayalalithaa does. I know it.
Karan Thapar: How many chief ministers in this country have moved anti-conversion bills where they believed that the Christian church of India was guilty of converting Hindus by fraud, force and inducement.
PA Sangma: Yes… we don’t give much importance to that because we don’t convert people forcefully. Give me one example where we have converted someone by force.
Karan Thapar:All the reason for my point, that her Bill was an affront to the Church, to your Church. Today you are saying you are proud of her support.
PA Sangma: You see you don’t understand. Christianity is the biggest religion in the world. We don’t go by a small incident here or there. We have a big heart. It is a big, global organisation.
Karan Thapar: You are being big hearted. So let me come to a third problem. How confident are you that your sponsors aren’t using you. To begin with, Naveen Patnaik who does not need PA Sangma, but who needs his support to reach out to the 25 per cent of Odisha which is tribal and whose support he badly needs. You are a tool for his strategy.
PA Sangma: Not at all. The fact that he is giving importance to the tribals.. we are grateful to him.
Karan Thapar:He is using you.
PA Sangma: Not at all.
Karan Thapar:He is exploiting you.
PA Sangma: Not at all. Nobody can exploit me. I have stood for principle everywhere. Even if you look at my past, I don’t go for posts, I don’t go for chairs.
Karan Thapar:Mr Sangma, even if you look at the BJP, who you said a moment ago had increased their support for you to 26-28 per cent, are using you… as a stepping stone over the bridge to Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik. Mr Sangma you are a tool. You are a part of a strategy that supports their convenience. That’s why they are supporting you, not because they believe in you.
PA Sangma: You think we are ignorant of which media is whose tool? Mr Karan, you think we are ignorant of which media is whose tool. Mr Karan don’t talk about tools.
Karan Thapar:Are you suggesting that my questioning is motivated?
PA Sangma: Yes, yes, you are also a tool. We are all tools. Don’t bring these kind of questions. We are all tools. These are small, petty things.
Karan Thapar:So, you say that you want to become a president to advance the tribal cause. How is the tribal cause advanced when you are willing to make yourself a pawn in the hands of Jayalalithaa?
PA Sangma: Till 1995, the tribals of this country had no representation in Indian politics. In 1995, I was the first tribal to become a Cabinet minister in this country.
Karan Thapar: Yes, but that was a Congress government, not the BJD or the AIADMK or the BJP.
PA Sangma: No, no! tThat’s not the point. How the country forgot the tribal people, I am talking about that. The country did not realise that we had a hundred million tribals in this country. And today, that I am a candidate is a demonstration of the country’s recognition that yes, there are tribals in India also.
Karan Thapar: And you believe that the BJP, the BJD and the AIADMK, by supporting PA Sangma, a man about whom two weeks ago, they had nothing to say, now suddenly have become great champions of the tribals, because they are supporting you. Do you really believe that?
PA Sangma: Yes, these are minor things that do not come to mind that often. You see, the morning after I became a Cabinet minister, Vajpayee ji entered my house and said, “Mr Sangma is it true that India has never had a tribal minister?? I said, “Yes! It is true. I am the first tribal to join the Cabinet.” And he said, “How could India make such a huge mistake?”
Karan Thapar: Let’s come to the next question. You have been speaker of the Lok Sabha. You have been Chief Minister of Meghalaya. You have been a very honourable Cabinet minister. Why are you throwing all of that away behind a pipedream?
PA Sangma: I am not. I am just asserting my right as a citizen of India, as a tribal, as a person coming from the North East.
Karan Thapar: But you could assert it in some other area. Asserting your right in an area where you are certain to lose, to me seems irrational.
PA Sangma: It depends. It depends on individuals. I could also assert my right as an anchor in any TV channel.
Karan Thapar:And you would probably be good.
PA Sangma: Oh.. I could try that also.. May be in future.
Karan Thapar: Is this determination to be the President of India an obsession that you are fulfilling?
PA Sangma: Not at all. It is not an obsession. 1974, when I met Indira Gandhi, she told me don’t run after posts. Do your work, the posts will run after you.
Karan Thapar:But the post isn’t running after you here.
PA Sangma: I have done it throughout my life.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it to you like this. Once the Presidential election is over, and PA Sangma is no longer in news, will you bitterly regret what you have willfully done to yourself?
PA Sangma: Not at all. I will be proud. A proud citizen of India.
Karan Thapar: Pride or hubris?
PA Sangma: Proud. Proud citizen of India.
Karan Thapar: Many people say that Sangma is like a Greek tragic hero, who cannot control the fact that he is destroying himself. He is propelled by his own demons to the point where he will destroy himself chasing the illusions of the Presidency. You had great career, great respect, but you destroyed it all behind a dream that cannot come true.
PA Sangma: Thank you for your thoughts. They do not affect me.
Karan Thapar:At all?
PA Sangma: Not at all.
Karan Thapar: Is it the end of a great political career?
PA Sangma: It is the beginning.
Karan Thapar: No, is it the end?
PA Sangma: Not at all. Political careers never end. You see I am just 65.
Karan Thapar: You have resigned from the NCP. Will you now join the BJD or the BJP?
PA Sangma: I have never run after any party for tickets.
Karan Thapar: The parties will come after you then?
PA Sangma: They will come after me.
Karan Thapar: So these parties will come to you?
PA Sangma: I have contested elections from so many party symbols. And my margin never goes down. It always goes up.
Karan Thapar: PA Sangma, you are a man of incredible courage, great self-belief. Let me end by saying that I believe you are doing the right thing by standing for Presidential election, despite every question that I have asked you.
PA Sangma: Thank you so much.