Conrad Sangma: Meghalaya’s consensus builder
New Delhi: In 2013 Meghalaya elections, Conrad Sangma lost from Selsella seat by a margin of over 2,000 seats. National People’s Party (NPP) too performed poorly by winning just two out the 32 seats it contested with a vote share of 8.81%.
Five years later, the regional outfit has witnessed a stunning change in electoral fortunes. On Saturday, it won 19 seats in Meghalaya elections, the highest by any regional party in the past two decades, and clocked a turnout of 20.6%. The complete turnaround of the party has been largely credited to Sangma, who was sworn in as the new chief minister of the state on Tuesday.
Conrad Kongkal Sangma, 40, was born in Tura, part of South Garo Hills in the state, which he currently represents as a Lok Sabha member. Sangma pursued his higher education in BBA (Entrepreneurial Management), MBA (Finance) from University of Pennsylvania and Imperial College, University of London.
The bespectacled Sangma is very fond of reading as well as music. He is also known to play the guitar and piano. He has helped organise several musical concerts in the state. According to his profile on Lok Sabha website, Sangma is the president of Meghalaya Cricket Association, Sports Academy and P.A. Sangma Foundation.
One of his earliest exposure to politics was during 1999 general elections, when he served as a campaign manager to his father and former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma at the time the latter was associated with Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
In 2013, P.A. Sangma broke away from NCP and formed NPP. After his father’s death in 2016, Conrad Sangma took over the party. He also went on to win the bye-election from Tura Lok Sabha seat owing to a vacancy due to his father’s death.
However, even before he became a Lok Sabha member, Conrad Sangma’s electoral stint had begun in 2008 when he was elected to the Meghalaya assembly. During his tenure, he served both as a finance minister for a year and eventually as the leader of opposition.
“Conrad is a man of his own. He is a very well educated and efficient man when it comes to governance issues. The party cadre feel that he is approachable, does his homework before meeting people and is aware of what the priorities of the common people are,” said a senior NPP leader from Shillong.
In the run-up to the polls, several voters in Meghalaya told Mint that they attached the “son of the soil” sentiment with Sangma—a feeling which they felt lacked in either the national parties or any other regional parties. He particularly draws a lot of support from women and young voters.
“His father succeeded in so many areas and so there is a lot of hope from him. He has ample political experience and is overseeing a tightly knit party. People of Meghalaya will look up to him for providing a stable government,” the leader added.
Indeed, a “stable” government will be one of the biggest concerns for Conrad Sangma. He is heading a coalition of four regional parties—NPP, United Democratic Party (UDP), People’s Democratic Front (PDF) and Hill State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP)—as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and an independent.
“Conrad Sangma is a very young leader and has shown his charisma in the state’s politics. His single biggest achievement till now is that he brought all the regional parties together, some of whom have been adversaries all their lives. That is the surprising part and was almost unthinkable even till an year ago,” said Susmita Sengupta, associate professor of political science, North East Hill University, Shillong, adding that his biggest challenge would be to keep the flock together as each leader in the coalition has an ambition of their own.
“He has built the party from the bottom and that is no easy task. He has a great connect with the people. His campaigning style is very hands on and he manages to build strong linkages with people. He has the makings of a mass leader in the near future,” she added.
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