Citizenship Bill: Northeast gets a new hero in Conrad Sangma

As protests against the bill in the Northeast got intensified, Sangma had taken the lead in bringing the regional political parties together in opposing it.

Published: 14th February 2019 06:50 PM  |   Last Updated: 14th February 2019 08:39 PM   |  A+A-

Conrad Sangma

Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma (File | PTI)

Express News Service

GUWAHATI: Until now, the BJP’s Assam leader Himanta Biswa Sarma enjoyed the image of a pan-Northeast leader. But the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 has thrown up a new hero.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, son of former Lok Sabha speaker the late PA Sangma, is the new leader rising. It was he who had brought 11 political parties from the Northeast together to put up a united fight against the controversial bill which the Centre failed to table in the Rajya Sabha.

Such a huge coalition in the form of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) was a few years ago built by Sarma when the BJP was making inroads into the Northeast. The difference is that Sarma had the support and resources of a national political party like the BJP. Sangma could do it despite being a marginal regional player.

ALSO READ | Euphoria in Northeast as Centre fails to table Citizenship Bill in Rajya Sabha

As protests against the bill in the Northeast got intensified, Sangma had taken the lead in bringing the regional political parties together in opposing it. He stood his ground despite his National People’s Party (NPP) being an ally of the BJP in NEDA. The NPP and the BJP are also constituents in the ruling dispensations of Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya. 

Just a few days ago, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah batted strongly for the bill’s passage in Parliament, Sangma had threatened to pull out of NEDA. He did not want the existence of indigenous communities of the Northeast to be threatened by the bill. And now, he is being viewed by people as a hero of the Northeast.

“He had a big role in saving democracy. He put up a brave fight for the indigenous people of the Northeast because he had realized that if the bill was passed, it would have been a threat to the political rights of the indigenous people of the Northeast among others,” said All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) general secretary Lurinjyoti Gogoi.

He added: “People expected (Assam Chief Minister) Sarbananda Sonowal to play such a role. However, he let them down by endorsing the bill. Sangma had kept fighting selflessly till the end. He should keep leading the fight of indigenous people of the Northeast”.

NPP Meghalaya unit chief W R Kharluki said Sangma, along with various other organisations, had played his part.

Asked if the CM is filling up the shoes of PA Sangma, Kharluki said, “He is more or less moving to the direction of his father”. The NPP leader added, “We should realize that nobody is going to help us. Only we ourselves can help us. Politically, we need a stronger Northeast so that we can have our say in the affairs of India as a whole”.

Well-known Assamese scholar Hiren Gohain said Sangma had played a critical role in mobilising opposition forces against the bill in the Rajya Sabha as well as forcing the BJP to recalibrate its agenda there. 

“But for the groundswell of resentment and resistance among people of the region, he might not have gathered the strength and guts to fight such a powerful ruling force to a standstill,” Gohain said, adding, “His threat to withdraw from the ruling coalition in Meghalaya unsettled the BJP which uses its leverage in government to further its own peculiar political and cultural goals. He has, therefore, been justly applauded for his role”.

Well-known Assamese scholar Hiren Gohain said Sangma had played a critical role in mobilising opposition forces against the bill in the Rajya Sabha as well as forcing the BJP to recalibrate its agenda there. 

“But for the groundswell of resentment and resistance among people of the region, he might not have gathered the strength and guts to fight such a powerful ruling force to a standstill,” Gohain said, adding, “His threat to withdraw from the ruling coalition in Meghalaya unsettled the BJP which uses its leverage in government to further its own peculiar political and cultural goals. He has, therefore, been justly applauded for his role”.

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