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December 26, 1997


The Rediff Interview/Purno A Sangma

'If God is with you, the PM's post will come on its own'

P A Sangma Purno A Sangma is a clever man. Speaker of the Lok Sabha. Congress MP from the north east. Former information minister.

Sangma, a Christian, holds Delhi's most popular Christmas party every year where everyone who is anyone turns up. This year-end, as the nation gears up for the polls and the Congress finds itself in a sorry mess, Sangma readies himself for yet another repositioning exercise. This time, as a candidate for the prime minister's job.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview with Pritish Nandy:

As Speaker, what do you think was the quality of the last Lok Sabha?

Well, I think a lot needs to be done to improve the quality of our Parliament. This means improving the quality of parliamentarians and that can come only through the political parties. The political parties will have to be very, very careful in choosing candidates. They must choose candidates with credibility, good reputation, education. Candidates who know the country, who have some idea about the Constitution of India, the geography, the social issues before the nation, economic policy. That is why I have been emphasising that election training is very important.

There is not enough time to do these things now. To check out backgrounds, train candidates, find the best people possible. Why don't you suggest what can be done, given the time available and the current state of our politics?

You are right. We cannot change things overnight. But a beginning can be made if we are serious. A beginning can be made by getting better candidates. This is where the political parties come in. You cannot expect them to have hundred per cent good candidates. But, yes, a beginning can be made.

What is the extent of deterioration that you, as Speaker of the Lok Sabha, have seen in the recent past?

You see, parliament is an institution which is supposed to formulate policies, which is supposed to legislate. Legislation is our foremost duty. We are supposed to have control over the finances of the country. We should be debating national and international issues. But in the last 18 months I found that we were only discussing and debating regional issues, local issues, even personal issues in some cases. These were the issues that dominated Parliament. We were going away from national issues.

What was the quality of the debate in your opinion? From what the nation saw on television, it appeared to be abysmal.

The quality of debate depends on the subjects being debated. If you talk about law and order in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, you cannot expect a high level of debate. It is just politics. They keep shouting at each other.

On the other hand, if you look at the five-day special session of Parliament -- where we tried to see what we have been able to achieve in the last 50 years and what needs to be done in the future, where we decided that we need to set an agenda for India -- the debate was at a very high level. All the MPs came well prepared. They had studied their subjects.

You mean we have the potential for quality debate and discussions but get sidetracked into other issues?

You are absolutely right, Pritish. We have the potential and people can contribute.

So you do not despair for the quality of Parliament we appear to be getting?

I think the quality can improve. But there is nothing to despair about.

How do you think, in the forthcoming polls, parties can ensure that they put up better candidates than they have been doing? Or do you expect more MPs with criminal records, more shouting and screaming in Parliament, more debates on non-issues, more dramabaazi?

P A Sangma In the last few months there has been quite a bit of debate on national issues like corruption, criminalisation of politics, probity in public life. People in the villages have started talking about these. Our voters are very, very mature. Because of the electronic media, they are also well informed. They see everything. Political parties must keep that in mind and field better candidates.

I know there are certain areas where the social structure is such, where there is so much of caste war going on that it may be difficult to get the kind of candidates we want. For some sections of the population, the key issue is protection. Protection of life, property. That gets priority. And sometimes they choose people -- not exactly the best candidates --who can give them this protection. There it will be very difficult to get the kind of quality we are talking about, the kind of MP we would ideally want. There, people have no choice.

But that is not in many places. That is confined to certain pockets only. Overall, I think, we are going to get a better Parliament this time.

How are you so sure?

Well, leaders of several political parties have already come out with statements saying that they will be very careful in choosing their candidates. Particularly when it comes to criminals. In fact, certain political parties have come out saying that they would like to support the empowerment of women and give 32 per cent tickets to women. This is very welcome. It reflects the spirit of the 81st Amendment to the Constitution.

So let us hope that things will change for the better. I am confident they will.

The last two years have seen you emerge as a very high profile, very successful Speaker. What do you attribute this to? Strong and persistent television coverage of the proceedings of the House, initiated by you during your stint as information minister or specific new dimensions you have lent to your job as Speaker?

I don't know. I don't know if I have been successful or not. I can only say that it was an exciting period for me.

What were the lessons you learnt from this exciting period?

To perform my duties to the best of my abilities. I have tried to strictly maintain transparency and impartiality. That is all I can say.

But what did you learn, if anything, during this period?

P A Sangma I learnt a lot of things naturally. How members behave. How they ought to behave. How to be patient, as you said. But, above all, I have learnt all the procedures of the House. The rules, the procedures, and certainly the Constitution of India.

Well, the role seems to have pitchforked you right in the centre of the political arena, where you are seen as a potential candidate for the prime minister's job!

One can never have ambitions to become prime minister of this country and lead 960 million people. I think it is destiny which decides. I don't think anybody can claim the post. If God is with you, it will come on its own. God chooses.

I don't know about God but I can think of at least a dozen people in politics who are lusting for the job and most of them are from your party.

Honestly, I am not one of them. I leave it to Him.

The Rediff Interview

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