Former Lok Sabha speaker Purno Agitok Sangma is supremely confident of winning the presidential election to become India's new head of state, saying if "Obama, who is a black, can become the president of America, why not a tribal in India?"
"I have never lost any election in the past. In fact, every time I contested, my margins have increased with the blessings of almighty God and the people," Sangma told IANS in an interview here.
"I will get through in this election (as well)," he added, seemingly unfazed by his rival United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate, Pranab Mukherjee.
Sangma is backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Biju Janata Dal, AIADMK and some other parties.
Sangma, who started his political career as a Congress activist in Meghalaya, has won nine consecutive Lok Sabha elections from Tura in the state. The constituency is now represented in the Lok Sabha by his youngest daughter Agatha K. Sangma. For a brief period from 1988 to 1990, Sangma was Meghalaya's chief minister.
Sangma insisted that it was the Tribal Forum of India that picked six names of tribal leaders from across the country including his and then urged political parties to back a tribal candidate for the presidency.
"It was Naveen Patnaik (Odisha chief minister) and (J.) Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu chief minister) who proposed my name. Many other parties have rallied behind me now," he said.
Is it correct to seek votes in the name of his tribal identity?
"What's wrong in a tribal aspiring to be the president of the country?" he asked.
"In the past, a president has been elected on the basis of caste, religion and gender. Therefore, I see nothing wrong in a tribal aspiring to be the president."
"In America, black people have always been looked down upon. Similarly, in our country, tribals and minority communities have been marginalised and exploited to a certain extent.
"If (Barack) Obama, who is a black, can become the president of America, why not a tribal in India?"
Sangma said he was still in touch with the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal-United, which are backing Pranab Mukherjee for presidency.
"There is still enough time for the election. Let us watch and see how things unfold."
Ditto is the case with West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.
"I am still in touch with her. Let us wait and see."
Sangma exuded confidence that the Telugu Desam Party would also support his candidature.
Will the MPs and legislators from the northeast vote for him July 19?
"I have already got the support the of regional players like Asom Gana Parishad, Mizo National Front, United Democratic Party. I thanked them for their support."
Sangma claimed that even some Congress MPs and legislators from the region would vote for him.
"I have already got feelers from them and their support is purely at a personal level as this is a secret ballot.
"I believe we should leave our political differences and stand united by supporting me in this election," he said.