Can Sangma rewrite political history of Prez losers?



Ajay Vaishnav and Pankaj Sharma/ Zee Research Group

Sunday’s loss to Pranab Mukherjee in the Presidential Election is first in PA Sangma’s long political career spanning over three decades. Given at stake was the “ticket to Raisina Hill”, analysts will be too tempted to term it as monumental. But, is it all over for Sangma?

Perhaps not! At 65, Sangma is still a young politician by Indian standards. Even though he lost to Mukherjee and by substantial margin, the Presidential Elections have kind of revived him on the national scene. The recent rift between the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress within the UPA government may also help Sangma’s cause. After all, he founded the NCP along with Sharad Pawar and Tariq Anwar in 1999 raising Sonia Gandhi’s foreign origin issue.

On a lighter note, Sangma’s photo and name still features prominently on the NCP website’s home page and in list of office bearers, even though he resigned from the party’s membership more than a month back. While critics may dub his decision to play the tribal-Christian card as folly, it cannot take away importance from the fact that it for once brought the issue of politically marginalized tribal and Christian community to the political centre stage.

Nonetheless, the key question remains whether Sangma can sustain himself or not at the national politics. Barring Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, the dominant trend of the Presidential Elections is that most losing candidates failed to make a political comeback. For instance, a towering leader like Bhairon Singh Shekhawat’s political career abruptly ended after losing to now-ex president Pratibha Patil in 2007. Likewise, Captain Lakshmi Sehgal of the Azad Hind Fauj in 2002, charismatic former election commissioner T N Sheshan in 1997 and eminent economist K T Shah in 1952, they all faded into political oblivion.

That’s because most political parties prefer pitching octogenarian candidates, usually on the verge of retirement from active politics. Like the office of Governor, President’s office too has become a post-retirement refuge. In contrast, a loss in the Vice-Presidential Elections hasn’t resulted in abrupt end of political career of losers. For instance, Surjeet Singh Barnala’s loss against Krishan Kant in VP elections didn’t deter the BJP-led NDA government to appoint him as Cabinet minister in 1998. Likewise, Sushil Kumar Shinde became minister in the UPA after losing to Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Again, Najma Heptullah has been re-elected to Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh despite losing to incumbent Hamid Ansari in VP elections in 2007.