SHILLONG, July 22: The people in Meghalaya, home state of opposition-backed presidential candidate P.A. Sangma, were glued to their TVs as counting in the presidential poll went on Sunday even as his decision to play the tribal card came in for both support and criticism.
The election had seen the state’s people keenly engaged in discussions as to whether or not Purno Agitok Sangma, the tribal Garo leader, should be the 13th president of India.
“Previous presidential elections were not as keenly followed as this. This elections was different for its contest and many people came to learn how exactly a president is elected largely due to P.A. Sangma,” said Tengsrang Momin, a Garo tribesman from Sangma’s hometown in Tura, said.
Mukherjee, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate, won with a massive margin, bagging 713,763 votes, about 70 percent, leaving Sangma way behind with 315,887 votes, but, for some of Sangma’s admirers, it was proud moment for Meghalaya and its tribal population.
“As a tribal I am sad P.A. Sangma has not won, but he has shown true leadership qualities and we are proud of him,” said Sengrak Marak, a youth leader from Garo Hills.
“For someone who is self-propelled I think he did alright by garnering more than 25 per cent of the votes,” said former Meghalaya home minister Robert G. Lyngdoh.
Backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK and some other smaller political parties, Sangma had undertaken an aggressive campaign throughout the country meeting legislators of different political parties for their support.
During his campaign he banked on “conscience vote” and claimed tribal leaders cutting across party lines in the country backed his candidature.
But his appeal was not heeded even in his state, where he only managing to garner 23 votes valued at 391, while Mukherjee got 34 votes valued at 578.
“I voted for Pranab Mukherjee based on my conscience. If he (Sangma) is really a real leader, he should never have played the tribal or religious card. Presidential elections is not based on religious and community line ,” Adolf Lu Hitler Marak, a suspended Nationalist Congress Party legislator in 60 member assembly, told IANS.