Will dad Sangma's move prove costly for daughter Sangma?

Written by: Shubham Ghosh

The latest development in New Delhi over the presidential election could exude a mixed response from the Sangma family. While Dad Sangma would be elated that the NDA threw its support behind his candidature for the election to the office of India's President, daughter Sangma would be all set to face a stiff challenge in her short political career so far.

Agatha Sangma

Agatha Sangma, 32, the youngest minister in the UPA government (she is the minister of state for rural development) could face an uncertainty after her father, PA Sangma resigned from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), a constituent of the UPA. Consequently, the Congress asked the NCP to decide on the future of Agatha in the UPA. The latter said it would closely monitor the daughter's role during the presidential election to reach a decision on her.

NCP sources said they could not expel Agatha just because her father refused to abide by the party's decision and went ahead to contest the presidential poll against the UPA candidate, Pranab Mukherjee. The Congress, although clearly not amused, but left it for the NCP to decide Agatha's fate. The daughter could face a heated ambience within the party after her father allegedly broke his promise to NCP president Sharad Pawar that he would abide by the party's call with regard to contest the presidential poll. Pawar had accepted senior Sangma's resignation and forwarded it to the Meghalaya Assembly Speaker for Sangma is a party MLA there.

This is not the first time, however, that PA Sangma ditched the NCP. He had formed it along with Pawar and Tariq Anwar in 1999 after being expelled from the Congress for criticising Sonia Gandhi on the issue of 'foreign origin' but left it in 2004 to join hands with Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. This time, he decided to participate for the presidential election after the BJD and AIADMK leaderships supported him. Eventually, the BJP-led NDA, too, backed his candidature.

About Agatha

Agatha, a Master's-degree holder in Environmental Management and lawyer by profession, first became an MP at the age of 28 when she defeated Congress's Zenith Sangma by nearly 1 lakh votes at Tura bypoll in 2008, after the Lok Sabha seat was vacated by her father. In the next year's Lok Sabha election, Agatha retained her seat, although this time she won by a much reduced margin of 17,945 votes against Congress's Deborah Marak. She was inducted as a minister thereafter. Agatha is the fourth member from the Sangma family, after her father and two brothers, Conrad and James, to make entry into politics. Conrad is currently the Leader of the Opposition in Meghalaya Assembly.

Agatha, who has been entrusted with the ministry of rural development, is known for her good understanding of legal issues. She had worked with FoxMandal Little, one of India's reputed law firms, and staunchly believes that foreign law firms should be given entry in India. In April, after visiting the rural parts of Nalanda in Bihar to study the progress made by the womenfolk with the help of self-help groups (SHGs) and the government, lauded Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for his leadership and supported the state's demand to get a special category status.

Alliance-family tussle

The junior Sangma had initially campaigned for his father's candidature despite being a part of the UPA government and also accompanied him to Chennai to meet Jayalalithaa, who then decided to support him. She also spoke in favour of a tribal candidate to be elected as the President of India and media messages for Sangma's campaign were also sent by her office. Agatha's role in her father's campaign and particularly when he is supported by two non-Congress CMs put the Congress government in an uncomfortable zone. Agatha, however, had backed off when asked by Pawar not to campaign for Sangma.

Will Agatha continue to be a part of the UPA?

It would depend on Agatha's political acumen to decide her stay in the UPA. Dad Sangma said Agatha was still a part of the UPA. "When she accompanied me to Chennai, I was not a candidate but we were speaking in favour of a tribal President of India. As soon as Jayalalithaa and Patnaik supported me, Agatha backed off," he said. All are not convinced though. Agatha had a one-to-one closed door meeting with Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik earlier this month in Bhubaneswar following their meetings in April and May. The latest meet was on rural development and women's SHGs in Odisha, Agatha said.

Dad Sangma had also said that the presidential poll is a secret ballot and nobody could tell who was going to vote for whom, when asked whether Agatha would vote for him.

Even if Agatha ultimately ends outside the UPA as some sources in the NCP assume, it would not be something drastically at the difference with the NCP's own brand of politics. The NCP is known for changing its taste of allies fast. PA Sangma also stressed this point once by saying that the NCP has two a double-natured relation with the Congress.

While they are allies at the Centre and Maharashtra, in states like Meghalaya, Manipur, kerala and Arunachal Pradesh, they are oppositions. In such a situation, if Agatha leaves the UPA and goes back to Meghalaya politics where the Sangmas enjoy a strong position, she would be still able to back her father without losing much. The BJP is an ally of the NCP in Meghalaya, something which would play to the Sangmas' favour all the more.

Just letting go a ministry like rural development in favour of promoting a cause which could earn her political family great many dividends in the future. Sangma, too, is confident that she would be in no problem whatsoever. It is just that she has to decide whether to put her ministry or her family first.

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