The Sangmas belong to western Meghalaya’s matrilineal Garo tribe but Lok Sabha’s youngest member, 27-year-old Agatha Kongkal Sangma, was inspired to earn her political stripes because of her father.
Her victory in a recent bye-election (to the very seat her father had held) may have given birth to India’s newest dynasty rule — one that has four members in a family of six holding political power.
The youngest daughter of former Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma is also the first woman MP from Meghalaya; the youngest in Parliament and her victory margin (of 99,856 votes from the No. 2 Tura parliamentary constituency) is the biggest by any woman candidate in the state. The Tura seat had fallen vacant when her father settled for an Assembly seat this March.
“Honestly, I wasn’t very prepared, though I had an eye on politics. It has all happened a little too soon. But I am proud and happy,” says Kongkal, sounding more girl-next-door than politician.
After an LLB from the Indian Law Society, Pune, Sangma had joined the Delhi High Court. She then did her MA from Nottingham University on environment management. Until now, she was on the payroll of New Delhi-based legal firm, Foxmandal Little.
The young leader resists all insinuations of dynasty politics. “You don’t win elections simply because you are your father’s daughter. People liked me because of what I am. They saw me, heard me, judged me and then voted me.”
Her elder brother Conrad Sangma is Meghalaya’s finance minister and the youngest the state has had. Both he and younger sibling James were elected to the Meghalaya Assembly, along with their father.
Padmashri Patricia Mukhim, a prominent local voice and editor of the Shillong Times — the state’s oldest English daily — says the Garos are clear about who they elect. “I feel people like Agatha have filled the vacuum of knowledgeable, competent young people in politics. People here didn’t only look at them as P.A. Sangma’s children,” Mukhim says.
Sangma says her win had a lot to do with her campaign style: “My appeal was simple. I never launched personal attacks like they did on me.”
In a state that has emerged as a major exporter of fruits as well as talent (from the state’s network of fine Convent schools,) the young MP has her goals set: “I want to create those opportunities for which young talents migrate outside.”
Young, vibrant people like Agatha, her brothers Conrad and James, are the new power centres in state capital Shillong, often called the Scotland of the East. Their impact is visible in small talks around street corners and on the Opposition Congress. “We are yet to recover from the shock,” says state Congress spokesman Roytre C. Laloo on Agatha Sangma’s win.
For her rival, former minister Zenith Sangma, the way he was stomped by such a huge margin remains the stuff of her famous namesake author — a mystery.