Dr Athiqul H. Laskar
With the presidential election for the post of India’s 13th President getting nearer, there has been a renewed interest for tribal groups and the Northeast of the country. The obvious reason for this is the nomination of Purno Sangma for this year’s presidential contest, the result of which is set to be announced on July 22. Belonging to a tribal community, his candidature has fuelled a lot of expectations, and the trade is abuzz with conjectures that India is going to get its first tribal President in the form of Sangma. He, on his part, has already ascribed his nomination to be a triumph of tribal unity.
What is remarkable is that Sangma has been getting a lot of support and approval from different political parties and leaders. For instance, Salkam Murmu, former Mayurbanjh MP and Jharkhand Disom Party member, has appealed to different political parties to extend their support to Sangma so that he is able to don the mantle of India’s first tribal President. According to him, most parties speak a lot about doing something productive for the uplift of the tribal population. Now, they have got an opportunity to do their bit by helping elect a person who can stand up for the cause of the tribal population and their development.
The nomination of Sangma for the post of India’s 13th President has raked up the issue of the rights of the Scheduled Tribes (STs) once again. This is evident from the comments made by Surya Singh Besra, the president of Jharkhand People’s Party and former MLA, that the STs, which comprise around nine to ten per cent of the country’s total population, ought to be represented in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. He has clearly said that at a time when so much effort is being made to assimilate tribal and northeastern people into the mainstream, it is but likely to have a tribal candidate in the celebrated Rashtrapati Bhavan.
The same thought has been echoed by CR Majhi, the president of All India Jharkhand Party (AIJP). He has stated that the hundred million tribal population of India has the constitutional power to seek the post of President and, therefore, it is but natural for one of them to be elected so.
Thus it can be seen that Sangma has a lot of support going for him that can help him ace the election and go on to become India’s first tribal President.
He is also leaving no stone unturned to make sure that victory is his. Campaigning has already started, and he recently joined a group of dancers belonging to the tribal community who were performing at the Constitution Club and happily played drums with them. It was a happy moment and, along with sharing their enthusiasm, he also did his bit to promote his candidature. With Pranab Mukherjee as his rival candidate in the presidential election, the competition is stiff and, therefore, such promotional activities are necessary to ensure victory in the elections.
How can Sangma’s presidential win benefit the Northeast and the tribal population? There is little doubt about the fact that the northeastern region of our country is seriously lagging behind in practically all respects when compared to the rest of India. The condition of the tribal population is worse with no means of development available for them with the help of which they can look forward to a better and more respectable life. In such a scenario, the news of a tribal leader being selected for presidential candidature has given a new ray of hope to the people belonging to the Northeast and the tribal population.
PA Sangma is originally from Meghalaya and a tribal of the Garo variety. Naturally, his candidature has aroused a lot of interest amongst tribal groups. They feel that his win can work wonders for their future and help them be at par with the rest of the world. Such expectations are quite natural because he himself has attributed his nomination to the victory of these tribes, and thus it is surmised that if he comes in power, he will work towards improving the overall condition of the northeastern States and the living condition of the tribal population as a whole.
It is not that efforts have not been made earlier to better the position of the tribes in the Northeast and make the States here more developed. But those have been sporadic which have not really made a significant impact. It is expected that with Sangma’s win, proper development will be facilitated, which will bring the northeastern States on a common platform with the other popular States of the country.
The vast cultural and racial difference of the Northeast people from the rest of the country can be said to be the most prominent reason for their alienation and lack of development. Of late, there have been some cases of suicide of Northeast students, whose main cause can be attributed to a discriminatory attitude meted out to them because of their different and alien cultural background. A case in point is the recent suicide of Dana Silva Sangma who had apparently taken her life because of the public humiliation suffered by her owing to cheating charges in an examination. In fact, Mukul Sangma, the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, had personally commented on this incident saying that he had come across many cases where Northeast students had to face humiliation on account of their ethnicity and culture.