In a massive jolt to the Congress in Meghalaya, eleven of the 17 MLAs broke away from the party on Wednesday to join the Trinamool Congress.
The revolt was led by the party’s Leader of Opposition and former state chief minister Mukul Sangma. A “provoked” Sangma spoke exclusively to India Today, spilling the beans on the startling overnight developments that sent ripples across the Congress camp.
Q: What prompted this decision?
A: These decisions aren’t taken overnight. It revolves around our decision to be in public life. When we come into public life, we come with a purpose to serve the people. In a democracy, whatever political party one belongs to, one has to ensure that the party is capable of fulfilling that responsibility after receiving the mandate of the people.
The political party concerned has to be strong enough, vibrant and ready to fight every time, and not to suffer from complacency and ‘chalta hai’ attitude. Therefore, when we aren’t able to do justice towards our people, there is a need for course correction. If that course correction doesn’t happen, then we are failing the people. And if we are failing the people, then we get frustrated.
Should I then give up my politics? This decision was the culmination of an exhaustive, long-drawn engagement with my colleagues.
Read | Trinamool welcomes newly joined Meghalaya Congress MLAs
Q: For how long have you been frustrated?
A: It’s not a question of frustration; it’s about the eagerness to get things right.
In 2013, for the first time in the history of Meghalaya, Congress was able to form a government without any coalition partners. Having received that mandate between 2013-18 and having set a new benchmark of governance, we were expected to retain power after the election in 2018. But something went wrong because things were not done properly.
Q: So you consider it a mistake when in 2018, Congress emerged as the single largest party in Meghalaya but was still not able to form government?
A: We wouldn’t have just remained the single largest party but would’ve crossed the halfway mark. Won’t you laugh when you hear of a Congress candidate getting only 200 votes! What is this nonsense? Are we so ‘brilliant’ in choosing a candidate who’ll get only 200 votes in an assembly election when you have your own government? You can understand what’s been happening in Congress since that time! We have always maintained that the internal affairs of a party should be discussed within the four walls of the party but since today I’m provoked, I’m forced to share.
When there is no intent visible to engage in course correction, then you have to ensure you don’t fail the people and you have to look for an alternative.
Q: Who do you blame within the Congress?
A: It’s a complex answer. I would not like to share. You can make your own conclusions.
Q: You made several rounds of Delhi over the last few months, as recently as last week. What went wrong?
A: There has to be intent to not continue with that ‘chalta hai’ attitude. That obviously weakens you.
Q: Who are you referring to when you speak of the ‘chalta hai’ attitude? Sonia or Rahul Gandhi?
A: The whole system itself revolves around that attitude. There has to be real engagement at the appropriate level and have the right kind of people at the appropriate levels.
If you are not doing it, then you are not doing justice to the people.
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Q: How did TMC become the alternative?
A: We searched and did exhaustive due diligence. Tell me another party that has the same ideology and principle as the grand old party? TMC was a natural choice for us. And the TMC leadership has the determination and commitment to fight, not a ‘chalta hai’ attitude. She (Mamata) has proven it.
Q: Who from TMC convinced you to join party? Was it Prashant Kishor or some other leader?
A: Honestly speaking, Prashant Kishor was also engaging with Congress party. So we came across and we tried to find out is it happening (sic). It didn’t happen. Then we tried to find another platform that provides you the level of commitment to continue defending what was the inherent ideology and principle of the grand old party.
I discussed with Prashant Kishor. I was enriched engaging with him. We also did our own research about whether we can do justice to the people by making TMC a viable option for the nation, keeping in mind the vacuum that is being created because of Congress.
Q: So Prashant Kishor convinced you to jump ship?
A: Yes, he gave me the options: you have this or you continue with Congress. So we had to pick an option. Based on that, we sent a request even without a meeting. I am yet to personally meet the chairperson of Trinamool Congress. But when we indicated our intent, they were happy to welcome us.
Q: Do you think TMC can become a viable alternative for the people of Meghalaya in 2023 and the country in 2024?
A: It will all depend on how we aggregate our strengths in the right earnest. I have every reason to believe that the people of my state have enough trust and confidence in our team of 12 who have decided to march with the TMC. They know us and we have demonstrated our commitment and utmost sincerity in fulfilling our responsibility.
We have set a benchmark of governance which can’t be met by the present government. It is corrupt, and accused of nepotism and other irregularities. People who wish well for the people of the state and the future generations will align with the TMC.
Q: Was your own working relationship with your state unit president (Vincent Pala) one of the reasons why you explored options outside?
A: How will you ensure a national political party is strengthened? You have to ensure that the party is strong in every state unit. Is it happening? No. I’ve already referred to 2018, when we were supposed to form a government. After all our surveys for the states that were to go to polls in 2018, we concluded that Meghalaya would be the one state where Congress would come back to power. But what happened? We messed up. We don’t learn.
The appointment of the president is only one part.
Q: Some Congress leaders are saying TMC is strengthening the hands of BJP by breaking up Congress.
A: It’s the other way round. If a national political party, considered the main opposition party, stops living up to the expectations of the people, then what is the option left for the nation? They will look for an alternative.
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