Politics in northeast is often overlooked in India's mainstream media but that does not minimise the significance of the region. We often find views being aired about the northeast in mainstream media but what's the thought of those in the northeast? Politically, it's a region which does not get much of a focus but we have a number of young leaders coming up from that part of the country. OneIndia News speak to Conrad Sangma, the young Leader of Opposition in the Meghalaya Assembly and son of veteran politician from Meghalaya P A Sangma.
Conrad Sangma,35, was first elected to the Meghalaya assembly in 2008 at the age of 31 and presented the state budget just a few days after his debut as the minister. His sister, Agatha Sangma is a central minister while brother James Sangma is a fellow member of the Meghalaya assembly. Previously a member of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Conrad followed his father's footsteps to leave the NCP and join the National People's Party (NPP). Originally a party based in Manipur.
Here is the conversation between Conrad Sangma and OneIndia News.
OneIndia: What do you think about the likely results of the Meghalaya election in 2013? It is said that Mukul Sangma has done a comparatively better job. Is NPP or those who were formerly the NCP in a position to challenge the Congress, which according to some, has been hit by internal problems? Or will it be a hung situation again?
Conrad Sangma: No party will get majority in this election. We, as the NPP, expect to increase our number of seats in 2013 election. Mukul Sangma has inaugurated projects which were actually initiated by past governments. Mukul Sangma has been laying down foundation stone for projects, but he does not even know how much they the projects cost or from where the funds will come. What is he doing is basically superficial work with nothing at the grassroot level.
The law and order in the state is at its worst, even from that it in states like Manipur, if we count the incidents that have taken place. Implementation of schemes like NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme), IAY (Indira Awas Yojana) and NRHM (National Rural Health Mission) has not been satisfactory at all. Hence laying foundation stones and making empty promises to people can not be called 'performance'.
OneIndia: You recently said that money would not play much of a role in the upcoming elections since people had been made aware about their rights. What makes you think that the Congress might use money power to influence voters?
Conrad Sangma: There is no doubt that the Congress will use money power as they have always done but in today's world one can not 'buy' votes. Yes, it is a factor to be taken into account, but hoping to win on money power only is not realistic.
OneIndia: On the issue of Bangladeshi immigrants creating trouble in Assam, what's yours take on this? Is Meghalaya also being affected by this? If this issue continues to threaten the sensitive northeast, then who's at fault?
Conrad Sangma: It is an important and sensitive issue and it will affect all regions concerned. At the end of it, a system to identify genuine Indians will have to be created on warfooting. We will need to create work permit systems to allow the economic activities to continue. And we need to ensure that genuine non-tribal Indians, particularly Muslims in the northeast, do not fall victim to this issue.
OneIndia: How much importance is the uranium-mining issue in Meghalaya is gaining in politics? Do you think it has the potential to emerge into a national concern?
Conrad Sangma: It is an important issue and a genuine concern for the citizens of the state. In the long run, yes it could become a national concern and it should.
OneIndia: What so you think will be the most important issues in the Meghalaya election next year? Border problems with Assam, immigration problem, uranium mining, law and order issues, tribal affairs in a diverse land: any of these or anything else?
Conrad Sangma: Issues like law and order in general in Garo hills, mining policy in East Garo and Jaintia Hills, uranium in West Khasi Hills as well as the border issues in West Khasi and Jaintia Hills are important ones.
OneIndia: How does the Union government in India treat the Northeast, in your opinion? be it Congress or BJP, as a person from the northeast, have you felt any difference?
Conrad Sangma: The Centre does try and give importance to north east through different schemes and policies, but more effort needs to be put in from both sides, the Centre and state. The states need better mechanism to ensure proper implementation of central schemes. May be direct fundings to different bodies could help and better monitering mechanisms. The Centre needs to realise that the states in the northeast are genuinely backward but with high potential and thus investment in the right sector can lead to higher growth and betterment of the national integration.
OneIndia: If the NPP wins the assembly elections next year, will you become the CM?
Conrad Sangma: If the NPP gets majority, then the party and its legislative wing will decide on the leadership.
OneIndia: Why do you think Mr P A Sangma decided to contest the presidential polls this year?
Was it just aimed at to promote a tribal identity or to strengthen political base in the long run?
Conrad Sangma: Mr Sangma genuinely felt the need to raise the issue of tribals in the country. He never specified his name in the beginning but urged leaders of different parties to project a tribal for the post of President. It was later that Ms Jayalalithaa and Mr Patnaik proposed Mr Sangma's name as the presidential candidate. He never projected himself initially. Nor did he ever plan for any mileage out of this. It was a genuine concern and still is.