Shillong: Former Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma, who has switched to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) from the Congress, told ThePrint that his former party no longer had the commitment or drive to win an electoral battle.
Sangma was among 12 of 17 Congress MLAs in Meghalaya who jumped ship to the TMC Wednesday.
In an interview to ThePrint, the two-time chief minister and former Congress chief in Meghalaya said the party had failed to optimise the potential of its leaders.
“You cannot reduce yourself to a political party that becomes insignificant in a state,” Sangma said. “You need to be able to take on your rival political parties… If you’re seeing that you’re only participating, then how is it going to enable you to achieve that objective.”
Sangma pointed to the 2018 assembly elections when the Congress had emerged as the single largest party with 21 MLAs in the 60-member assembly.
“In 2018, it was only in Meghalaya that the Congress party could have formed a government,” he said. “But we couldn’t do so because the drive to fight and commitment to fight and win an electoral battle was missing.”
Eventually, the National People’s Party, which had 20 seats, formed a coalition government along with the United Democratic Party, the People’s Democratic Front, the BJP, the Hill State People’s Democratic Party (two seats), and two Independents.
The Congress in 2018 also lost its tag of the single-largest party in the state after one of its MLAs, Martin M. Danggo, quit. Then in the bypolls held last month, the NPP managed to wrest three more seats from the Congress.
‘Like minded people coming together’
When asked about his journey to the Trinamool Congress, Sangma said, “We were actually exploring, and trying our best to really find that maybe something could happen within the Grand Old Party itself. But we saw that things are not going to change.”
Through the course of this “exhaustive exercise directed towards finding an answer”, Sangma met several leaders including political strategist Prashant Kishor.
“I also ended up meeting Prashant Kishor and we were thinking about how we can make an impact in the minds of our leadership in the Congress. But he also gave up,” he said. “But there was a meeting of the minds.”
Kishor, whose political consultancy Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) had been hired by the TMC for the 2021 polls, has been helping Mamata Banerjee’s party in expanding its footprints in the northeast and other states.
The decision was cemented following more discussions and the 2021 West Bengal elections, where TMC dealt a blow against the BJP, who had been hoping to make significant inroads in the state.
“I have known Mamata Banerjee since when she was in the Congress, we have been watching her keenly…she does what she says,” Sangma said. “She is open to like-minded people coming together and aggregating their thoughts and strengths to achieve an agenda on a pan-India basis, not confined to the borders of West Bengal… This is the reason why we decided on this.”
Responding to a question about whether he considered joining the BJP, he said, “The BJP has to change its approach to how it looks at India. They must have that sense of accommodation, keeping in mind the huge diversity that this nation has.”
Discontentment with Congress
Sangma’s discontentment with the Congress had especially become palpable in the past few months following the appointment of Vincent H. Pala as the state party chief. An intraparty feud had ensued, which led to a visit by Rahul Gandhi in early October.
“I’ve been in politics for such a long time. But suddenly I saw somebody who has not had even five years of innings in politics being given such a complex role,” he said. “You can’t build a party like this. They may be brilliant… But politics is a different ballgame.”
About the Congress’s current situation in national politics, Sangma said, “If you do not use your arm, it will atrophy… You may not be able to stop the ageing process, but you are able to slow down the ageing process. There are ways to do things. So in politics, also, I think you have to apply a scientific approach.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)