Shillong surprise: A new party for Mukul Sangma

Shillong surprise: A new party for Mukul Sangma

The former chief minister has has enough of the Congress. Having defected to the TMC, he looks set for a new innings in Meghalaya

Former Meghalaya chief minister Mukul Sangma (R) with his wife and MLA Charles Pyngrope (C) after a press meet in Kolkata, Tuesday, Nov 30, 2021. Pyngrope has been appointed as Meghalaya TMC President on Monday. Credit: PTI File Photo

On the night of November 24, as Shillong and Delhi slept, the Trinamool Congress set off a political tremor in the national capital with an announcement: 12 sitting MLAs, including former CM Mukul Sangma, from the Meghalaya Congress were switching over to the party.

Next day, with the media agog over the Congress implosion, Mukul spoke about the kerfuffle in the hills. A medical doctor by training, he seemed to have diagnosed the problem in the party unit and came up with a solution for it: split and exit.

The decision meant that the TMC led by ambitious Mamata Banerjee was suddenly catapulted as the main Opposition party in the Northeast state, even though it did not win a single seat in the 2018 Assembly polls. The Congress tally plunged to a mere five.

Also Read: TMC flags will flutter across Meghalaya in 45 days: Mukul Sangma

A few days later, on November 30, Mukul was in Kolkata. Having met Mamata a day earlier, Sangma confidently announced: “You will see Trinamool Congress’ flags fluttering all across Meghalaya soon.”

Out of the 12 MLAs who defected, eight, including Mukul, are from Garo Hills while the remaining four are from Khasi Jaintia Hills. Mukul belongs to the Garo community but he took four Khasi-Jaintia MLAs on board, something which would help him spread the TMC across Meghalaya.

This astuteness and capacity to pull leaders and workers from all communities, perhaps, made the 56-year-old and the father of four the tallest leader in Meghalaya politics after P A Sangma. Mukul’s political journey, in a sense, began at the Regional Institute of Medical Science, Imphal, Manipur, where he joined as an MBBS student in 1990 but keenly followed political currents of the state and beyond.

A resident of South Garo Hills, Mukul soon joined the government service as health and medical officer at a remote public health centre. In 1993, he quit his job and contested the Assembly elections as an Independent candidate, a pivotal moment in his life as he won the election.

Five years later, he became a Cabinet minister; then, continuing his rapid ascent in politics, he found himself in the deputy chief minister’s post in 2005 and again in 2009 when Congress veteran D D Lapang was the CM.

Mukul took oath as the chief minister in 2010 after Lapang resigned. He was re-elected as the CM in the 2013 Assembly elections. One of the highlights of his tenure was the health insurance scheme launched for BPL families in 2015.

Then the tide turned, not just in Meghalaya but in the entire Northeast. In 2018, Mukul contested from two seats (Ampati and Songsak) and won both. But the Congress failed to form the government despite emerging as the single largest party with 21 MLAs in the House of 60.

The National People’s Party-led coalition wrested power from Mukul in 2018, and the other famous Sangma, Conrad, son of P A Sangma, became the chief minister. With just two MLAs, the BJP is an ally of the NPP-led coalition government.

“His meteoric rise in Meghalaya politics since 2009 has been extraordinary in many senses as he majorly broke the dominance of Khasi-Jaintia hills’ politicians in Meghalaya politics,” said Prasenjit Biswas, a political analyst based in Shillong, of Mukul, whose brother Zenith is also a politician.

Trouble with Congress

“Trinamool has the potential to be the real alternative to BJP,” Mukul said while justifying his decision to join the TMC. Mukul, however, did not take the decision soon after Shillong MP Vincent Pala was made the president of the state Congress unit, which triggered the exodus.

“I travelled to Delhi and met the high command (Sonia Gandhi/Rahul Gandhi) and tried to sort out the issues within the four walls. But it did not make much difference,” he said. With the BJP having no chance to make it big in Christian-majority Meghalaya, Mukul had no option but to look for a new party to secure his political career.

Veteran Shillong-based journalist Patricia Mukhim feels that the decision to dump the Congress in favour of the TMC could parachute Mukul into national politics. “Mukul Sangma has the potential to be a national leader,” Mukhim wrote in an article recently.

“In the TMC, he has the leverage to emerge as a strong tribal leader from the Northeast. Aligning with BJP was not an option because there is space for only one leader in the region. That space has been taken by Himanta Biswa Sarma, his bete noire.”

In a way, Mukul and his fellow leaders are retracing the cultural bond Bengal and Shillong share since Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to the hill station in 1919. If they are successful, their efforts would pull the Bengali voters, particularly in Shillong and elsewhere, towards the TMC, strengthening it further.