Veteran journalist and Editor-in-Chief of The Print, Shekhar Gupta today remarked that former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno A. Sangma had left too early and that a lot was left to be done for the tribal population of India.
He was speaking at the 7th P A Sangma Memorial Lecture organised by NEHU, Tura Campus and the P A Sangma Foundation at the District Auditorium, Tura to remember the Garo leader at his 76th Birth Anniversary.
Gupta also recalled his time in the North East as a young correspondent of a national newspaper in the early 1980s, and lamented that he travelled to many parts of the region but hardly travelled inside Meghalaya and not once to Garo Hills despite being stationed in Shillong.
He highlighted the fact that India’s 8 per cent population is tribal, representing around 10-11 crore people, which means India has the largest tribal community in the world.
“Yet there was not a single tribal leader who is presently seen as a pan-India or national leader representing the voice of this population, which is scattered around the country. This is the void left by P A Sangma, as he had risen to such a stature and was still growing, being seen as a tribal leader who represented all tribals of India,” Gupta said.
“There are many tribes; there are tribes in the North East, there are larger tribal populations in East central India i.e., Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and then there are tribal populations in other parts of the country. We have never really had a national tribal leader. Because usually, tribal leaders end up being leaders of their own tribe, they don’t become leaders of tribal communities speaking for the tribal cause, tribal point of view, across the country,” he added.
“There have been very few like that and Purno Sangma had risen to that stature, and he was rising in that stature. I thought, given the fact that he was very young, finally India has a pan national tribal leader,” Gupta said.
He further observed that the East-central India region in particular, where there is Naxalism has tribal leaders there but a national level leader is still lacking and that is the gap that Purno Sangma left behind.
“He would have been a very active, very powerful, mainstream pan-national politician because nobody, none of us saw him as a leader from the North East or as a leader of one tribe, leader of the Garos of the North East,” Gupta said, even as he expressed that Sangma’s passing away was a loss not just to the tribal community but also to India.
Also highlighting the importance of tribal population to the nation, Gupta said tribals are needed to keep India’s cohesion, and someone must talk about them, to educate the rest of India about them and their ways of life.
“You need tribal leaders to keep India’s cohesion. It’s 11-12 crores tribal and somebody can speak for them, then sensibilities about tribal, tribal life can come out, which otherwise we tend to not know; because we think ignorance is bliss,” he stressed.
Purno’s son and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma recalled his father’s irreplaceable principles and values which he shared with the people present.
“Late P A Sangma has been a mentor and a true leader who has really taught us and guided us (his children) to always ensure that whatever we do in life, especially in politics, that it must be with keeping the people first and ensuring that every decision we take is driven by what is good for the people of our state, and of this country,” he reminisced.