Perhaps few know that former Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma was once very close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In 1999, he was seen as one of the closest to Sonia, who was then still coming of age vis-à-vis politics after a long period of hibernation following the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi .
Sangma however sprung a surprise after the NDA government lost the vote of confidence by a margin of one vote. In a meeting of Congress office-bearers, he along with Sharad Pawar and Tarique Anwar raised the banner of revolt against Sonia. And the most surprising of all suprises was the fact that the triumvirate raised the issue of Sonia’s origin.
Their revolt was quickly followed by Mulayam Singh Yadav’s volte-face on extending support to the Congress to form the government at the Centre. Sonia, who went to the president’s house to stake her claim to form the government had to cut a very sorry figure in wake of the events that eclipsed all her chances of taking over as the Prime Minister of India.
At that time, the triumvirate was called “Amar (Pawar), Akbar (Tarique) and Anthony (Sangama)” as the three followed different religions. Considered the most affable and jolly among the trio, Sangma continued his political journey with Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Since the party is regional in its character, Sangma gradually began losing his influence not only in his home state — Meghalaya — but also at the national level.
He parted ways with Pawar in 2004 apparently chagrined by the NCP’s decision to align with the Congress in forming the UPA government. Obviously unlike Pawar, Sangma stuck to his political beliefs that caused him to break away from the Congress. In his interviews, he was categorical in his assertion that Sonia’s origin was a major issue in the Congress. Though Sangma could not mend fences with the Congress, his daughter Agatha Sangma served as a minister in the UPA-2 government.
But as was his wont, Sangama was never a revisionist.
In the 2012 Presidential Election, he jumped into the fray as the NDA candidate against Pranab Mukherjee. Sangma lost by a whopping margin. The decision taken by 'Anthony' to contest the election formally severed all his ties with his former comrades-in-arms, 'Amar' and 'Akbar', who had changed with the times.
Those who know Sangma could testify that his smile was infectious.
In 1996, in the Lok Sabha, where he served briefly as the Speaker, he could cajole the most belligerent speakers into submission with his innocent smile. This proved invaluable during the debate in the Lok Sabha the same year when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister for 13 days. During the course of the debate when BJP members started shouting at the Congress for obstructing Vajpayee's speech, Sangama said, “Why don’t you listen to your prime minister? He is your prime minister”.
This provoked an angry response from Pramod Mahajan who retorted, “He is your prime minister too”. With a beatific smile, Sangma said, “Yes, I am sorry. He is our prime minister”.
His graceful and conciliatory conduct in Parliament is a lesson for those who aspire to become parliamentarians in generations to come.