Dear Mr Sangma
When you hauled yourself out of virtual retirement and threw your hat in the ring for the Presidential election against Pranab Mukherjee, there were those who felt you were unworthy of it, and that it was all a colossal waste of everyone’s time.
You stood not the feeblest chance of winning, given the arithmetic of the electoral college – and the fact that the Congress was rather better at wheeling-dealing than the the BJP, which couldn’t even decided to back your candidature till the last minute. Why bother fighting a battle that you were sure to lose, you were asked. Yet, you persevered, injecting yourself forcefully onto the national stage.
Nevertheless, there were others who argued (here and here) that even though you were fated to lose, the contest was worth it, to the extent that it could be used to train the spotlight on Pranab Mukherjee‘s long record of political life, including his dubious role during the Emergency. When you challenged Mukherjee to a debate, I’d argued that there was a case for Pranab-da to submit himself to rigorous scrutiny and a debate in the spirit of openness and accountability, even though there was no compelling need for him to.
But then, your Presidential campaign itself was far from inspiring. Beyond appealing for votes on the basis of your tribal identity, thereby catering to the lowest common denominator of identity politics, you didn’t exactly elevate the debate in the manner that we’d hoped for. Where we had sought a “clash of ideas”, you reduced it to a succession of personal attacks that grated on the senses of even those who had welcomed your candidacy.
The only frisson of excitement in the election campaign related to the “office of profit” controversy: you sought to establish that Mukherjee’s candidature should be struck down since he had not officially resigned from the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta, on the day he filed his nomination papers. The Election Commission, to whom you appealed, however, gave the all-clear, and the election went ahead.
In that election, you lost, without even managing to secure all the votes that ought to have come to you. In Karnataka, where the BJP is witnessing trouble in its ranks, some legislators cross-voted – and helped Pranab-da win somewhat emphatically.
In defeat, you were singularly graceless, and the only thing you could think of saying was that the country had “lost a golden opportunity” to show solidarity with its tribal community.
Yet, even in retrospect, your contest was worth it, although as I’ve said you didn’t exactly make the most of the platform you had been provided.
But when you haul yourself off to the Supreme Court – as you did today – and challenge Mukherjee’s election on the ground that his candidacy was flawed, it seems like you’re taking things a little too far. You may be well within your legal rights to do what you’re doing, but there is some merit in knowing when not to press it.
Just look around you: the north-east (from where you hail) has been in turmoil in recent times, first with the Assam riots, and then the ‘exodus’. People hailing from the north-eastern region, who had sought gainful employment elsewhere in India, have been the victims of some shameful political play, the precise nature of which it is hard to fathom. They have had to abandon their jobs and head home because of a panic attack, and although they are gradually returning, there is still an element of uncertainty about their future.
Have you had anything to say about their plight? Or have you been so focussed on your own tribal identity – and your desire to drag your Fifteen Minutes of Fame even longer – that you haven’t noticed it?
There are some things that are bigger than ourselves, Mr Sangma, but you seem so obsessed with your own self – and your sense of injured innocence – that you appear to have missed out on the bigger picture.
You had your time on the stage, but you flubbed your lines. You cried foul, but were given a patient hearing, including by an impartial Election Commission. You were defeated fair and square, and yet you can’t bow out gracefully. You may be well within your rights to challenge the election, but it is a needless political distraction when your own folks from the north-east are going through a very personal and collective hell.
Give it up, Mr Sangma. Walk away with what little you may have of your dignity.
As the American comedian WC Fields once said: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point being a damn fool about it.”