With the Meghalaya Assembly polls just round the corner, Northeast Now caught up with former Chief Minister and leader of the Opposition Dr Mukul Sangma. In an exclusive interview with executive editor Mahesh Deka, the TMC leader gives an insight into the party’s preparedness for the ensuing polls and varied issues concerning the northeastern state. Sangma says that the government can not behave like a dictator and force people to accept its decision.
Are you confident of TMC winning a significant number of seats in the ensuing Meghalaya election?
See, the election process has gained momentum over the last couple of months. We had only a year to organise the party given the fact that the party and its symbol are new for the people of Meghalaya. There are always challenges associated with building a new political party. Notwithstanding these challenges, we have been able to connect with people across the state. People from remote villages, driving hundreds of kilometres, have joined us and participated in our programmes. This reflects how people from different walks of life have reposed faith in a party and its leaders.
So I believe that it is the trust and confidence that the people have in TMC. And that is the reason, the party has been able to make its presence felt across the state. The love and respect shown by the people have given us inspiration, motivation and confidence that we will be able to form the next government.
But in Meghalaya, there has been a trend of a coalition government. If there is a fractured mandate, which will be your preferred party to join hands?
We are all aware of the usual trend. As far as the elections in Meghalaya is concerned there has always been a fractured mandate. But in the first Assembly election, after the creation of the state, the mandate was given to a single party, All Party Hill Leaders Conference (APHLC), which formed the government. Back then, people belonging to different tribes including Khasi, Janitia and Garo, were all united. And now, why can’t we repeat this if we love the state?
Also read: Interview (Part-1)| NPP-led government has tarnished Meghalaya’s image, says Mukul Sangma
If you really want the State’s growth and development, you need to have a party, which prioritises the people’s interests and issues of the state. That can happen only when you have a govt which is not a victim of the ‘marriage of convenience’. There are always inherent pools and pushes in a coalition govt that hinder the development process. Keeping in mind all these realities, I think our job is to reach out to the people and walk together to accelerate the wheel of development as the state has immense potential to be ahead of many other states.
You said the recently signed Assam-Meghalaya border pact is not acceptable. What steps would you take if voted to power?
I have always maintained that the contentious border issue must be resolved in such a way that is acceptable to all. If you have differences in one particular area you should focus on that. However, what has happened during this negotiation is that they have gone beyond these 12 identified areas of differences. Why the Survey of India’s demarcation of the Assam-Meghalaya border was not accepted by the people of our state from the very beginning?
It was not accepted because there were some mistakes in the demarcation by the Survey of India. While demarcating a boundary between two neighbours, there should be a consensus between the two states. Although the people had faith in the Survey of India, due to loopholes in the demarcation process, these contentious issues cropped up now. But now let us resolve it based on the actual data and notifications which are available. You have to understand that this is a highly sensitive issue. You must take people, who are affected by the decision, on board. We can’t behave like a dictator and force people to accept our decision. The question now arises for whose interest the settlement of the vexed issue has been made in a manipulative way. Definitely, there is mala fide intention.
You said that there is a sense of fear in the minds of non-tribals living in Meghalaya. Do you think the incumbent government has failed to provide security to them?
Unfortunately, there is a sense of insecurity not only among the non-tribals but among all people. We have seen what happened to the people in Mukhro. We often receive distress calls from Garo people living in border areas. I don’t want to engage in a blame game but the fact is that if there is a sense of insecurity. You have to find out the reason. It is the responsibility of the government. It s the job of the government to ensure that there is a fear of the law. When there is fear of the law then there will be no sense of insecurity.
However, now there is no care for law because there is no administration, and there is no governance. This means the government has totally failed. Lawlessness has been the order of the day in the state. This whole development inflicts a lot of pain on my heart. It is our job to ensure that the state is free from lawlessness. But how we can do that? The solution is, now you have to free the state from the people who have left the state to such a mess.
The farmers’ condition in Meghalaya has not improved much. Despite potential, the government has failed to promote local produces like pineapple, orange and cashew nuts in the international market. What do you have to say on that?
The farmers in Meghalaya are always confronted with unforeseen challenges. There are too many enemies to farmers–the natural calamity, the pest problem and dislocation of the market, etc. So how to create that kind of situation where farmers’ interests are protected? You have to identify the challenges accurately and take measures accordingly. A number of programs for farmers’ welfare are there, but they have not been implemented.
Now, the problem here is, you’re talking about the start-ups, about MSMEs. But where is the whole focus? You cannot just have lip service. During my stint as Chief Minister, I undertook a number of initiatives but all of these are now in cold storage. It is very painful to see that these initiatives, which revolve around the concept of creating multiple opportunities for sustainable livelihood, are all delayed by this government.
There must have an in-depth understanding of the problems associated with farmers. The challenges are complex, and how to resolve them, is not so simple. But we already have so many answers. Now, these answers are to be translated into reality, by converting them into an action plan. But I am sorry to say that now the action is missing.
There are allegations that you resort to dynastic politics. How do you respond to that?
When you serve people, you will be bee seen as someone who is more for the people themselves. Then what happens, people will come and say, they see you in them. That’s how human psychology works. Recently, what happened, a number of people from different constituencies came and requested me to contest from their LACs. When I told them that it was not possible, they requested me to nominate somebody who is close to me. This happens because of the trust of the people. Sometimes, when people demand someone only from your family, and you need to win a seat, then definitely you will have to make some sacrifices.
Now tell me one thing, Dr. Mukul Sangma, who was a chief minister since 2010, why should he require his wife to be an MLA? Is it necessary for me? I told my people, please don’t deprive her of the privileges that she has because when she is the spouse of the Chief Minister. Being the wife of the Chief Minister, she has all this position and honour. But the moment you make her an MLA, you demote her. Dr. Mukul has been deprived of the overall company of his spouse. It’s not easy. Now, if I have to allow my wife to give her time for the people, as you see, you will not see me with my spouse and my children around. So it’s nothing but the kind of sacrifice that we are making.