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‘TMC will be NPP’s competitor in Garo Hills’

Banker-turned-politician Beryl Sangma speaks on state politics & 2023 polls

Beryl B Sangma, who was the first Garo to join the Reserve Bank of India and retire as the chief general manager of the central bank, was candid about the prospects of political parties ahead of the 2023 Assembly elections. He believes the Trinamool Congress (TMC), a new entrant in the state politics, will make a mark in Garo Hills while the NPP may falter in maintaining its numbers.

The youngest of four siblings, Sangma joined the Congress in 2019 after retiring from RBI. As a child, he saw the statehood leaders from close proximity as his father Karnesh Marak, who would later become the first Lok Sabha MP from Garo Hills, was part of the movement. Though Sangma has never participated in electoral politics, he is a keen observer and critique of the current state of politics in Meghalaya.


When Sunday Monitor met Sangma at his residence in Tura, it was a usual weekend with family, which also includes three German Shepherds. Though the conversation started with state politics, it swerved through many alleys encompassing his days in RBI, his father and family, the country’s economy and his political plans.

On politics

The 2023 Assembly elections in Meghalaya will be riveting amid strong anti-incumbency in both Khasi and Jaintia Hills and Garo Hills. According to Sangma, though the NPP is still in a good position owing to its numbers in the Legislative Assembly, it will find it difficult to maintain it owing the “numerous issues which have cropped up in recent days”.

The NPP, which is the strongest ally in the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) government, is facing several corruption charges, the worst being that of illegal coal mining. Within months of the MDA government coming to power, 13 labourers died in a coalmine accident in 2018. This was despite Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s claims that there was no illegal mining in the state and the government was sincere about scientific processes following the mining regulations. A month later, two activists, Agnes Kharshiing and Amita Sangma, who were probing illegal mining in East Jaintia Hills were attacked by a mob. The prime accused in the case, Nidamon Chullet, was the district NPP president.

The party, which was formed by late Purno Agitok Sangma, faced several other allegations in the following years, including the Saubhagya scam, the FCI rice scam and irregularities in the MeECL. The raid on Rimpu Bagan, a resort in Tura, and the arrest of its owner Bernard Marak, a former militant leader turned politician and strong critique of the NPP, has worsened things in Garo Hills. The resentment among the electorate was palpable when Sunday Monitor interacted with a section of citizens in Tura. The NPP now faces a mammoth task of winning over the trust of voters even in its bastion.

“The various issues will affect its prospects of getting re-elected,” said Beryl Sangma.

On TMC, Sangma said though it is a new entrant this election, it is “doing well” in Garo Hills and will give a good fight to NPP in the region. “However, it does not have a strong foothold in Khasi and Jaintia Hills. Barring Charles Pyngrope and a few others, there is no big name in the party in the region. I do not see much prospects there (Khasi and Jaintia Hills),” he added.

On the contrary, UDP will perform well in Khasi and Jaintia Hills but has little chance in Garo Hills, Sangma said, adding that BJP does not have much influence on the electorate, “maybe because of its religious views”.

When asked about the Congress, the politician said the party has gone down over the years and it will be an uphill task for it to turn around this election.

The Congress became the single largest party in the 2018 Assembly elections with 21 MLAs. However, the regional parties shook hands with the NPP to form the coalition government in the state. The grand old party lost its opposition chair when 12 MLAs, including Mukul Sangma, joined TMC last November. In the beginning of this year, the Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee suspended five MLAs, including senior leader Ampareen Lyngdoh, for their decision to support the MDA-led government.

“Then who is there to contest? How is the party going to fight in the 2023 elections,” said Sangma.

Sangma was also critical about the dominance of a few families on the state politics. “Dynastic politics has always been there since the time of Capt. Williamson Sangma. One of his sons was in politics. However, the other family members never got involved. But take the case of PA Sangma or Dr Mukul Sangma. PA Sangma’s entire family is in politics and so is Mukul’s. In Khasi Hills too, a few families are prominent in politics,” he said and rued the absence of a level playing field for the young and the dynamic who are working at the grassroots level.

On rupee devaluation

During his tenure in the RBI, Sangma played an important role in investigating several money-laundering cases. He was sent on deputation to the Central Bureau of Investigation and represented India at Interpol in France. After being posted in different parts of the country in different capacities, he was posted as the Banking Ombudsman for the seven states in the North East. His last posting was as the director of the Indian Institute of Bank Management.

So, when it came to the question of the economy and the devaluation of rupee in the international market, Sangma was more than happy to share his views. The devaluation of the Indian currency, he said, can be checked with more exports, but at the same time, the country has to strengthen manufacturing.

When asked whether rupee can be delinked from the internal market as was once suggested by late Robert Kharshiing, Sangma said it would be difficult as India has to pay to the international market in dollars for defence purchases and crude oil, among others. “If the currency is deshackled, then how can we pay back to the other countries? It is only the US that can do this as their currency is used in the international market,” Sangma explained.

On political path ahead

Sangma joined the Congress party in 2019 after he retired as a banker. However, he never participated in the electoral politics and is still undecided. When asked about his plans in politics, Sangma said he is yet to renew his party membership.

To a query, he said there was no plan to join the TMC and he would decide on his political career.

As a youth, Sangma was active in student politics and had formed a party, the Meghalaya Democratic Party, with Robert Kharshiing. But Sangma had to leave Shillong to pursue his career. During a meeting in the past, Sangma had told this reporter that he joined the Congress because he was impressed by Mukul Sangma’s (now in TMC) sincerity in developing the state. He had also suggested that the national party should discuss threadbare its weaknesses and failures before it planned for a turnaround.

~ Team Sunday Monitor from Tura

Also read: Karnesh Marak: The forgotten statehood leader

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