Shillong: In Meghalaya's West Garo Hills district, former chief minister PA Sangma has been travelling in a bus for the past month to campaign for the upcoming assembly election on February 23. Mr Sangma has been taking this bus, which the locals call the 'Magic Bus', at every public meeting that he has attended in his home district to address large crowd.
For years now, Mr Sangma and his family have captured the political space in this part of the state. But in this election, Mr Sangma will need his magic touch more than ever before.
A few months ago, Mr Sangma contested and lost the presidential elections to Pranab Mukherjee. He went against the wishes of Sharad Pawar's NCP, his former party, to contest the election. Now, Mr Sangma has formed a new party, and has aligned himself with the BJP in the state. It is likely to be the front for all non-Congress parties in the state.
The veteran politician is not contesting himself, but is campaigning for his two sons, Conrad and James, among all the candidates for his newly launched National People's Party. In all, Mr Sangma's new party is contesting in 32 out of the 60 assembly seats in Meghalaya.
Mr Sangma says he is using his fight for the president's post as a poll plank in the Meghalaya elections. "I am telling voters that but for Congress and NCP, a Garo would have been the president of this country. Why should you vote for such parties." The veteran politician adds: "Presidential election was important for our tribal aspiration. They never got a chance. So that was important. The issue got highlighted. Secondly, the issue was about uniting the tribal population. We have 100 million tribals and they all support different parties. So we have formed the National People's Party to unite them."
This election is also about prestige for PA Sangma. The veteran politician has served as the chief minister of the state from 1988 to 1990 when he used to be a member of the Congress. Since then, Mr Sangma has played the kingmaker in Meghalaya during his stints as a member of Parliament when he became the speaker of the Lok Sabha in 1996.
Mr Sangma, who was first expelled from the Congress in 1999 and then walked out of Sharad Pawar's NCP over its refusal to support him during presidential elections, may end up becoming a small regional player within his home district in Meghalaya.
However, Mr Sangma laughed off such a possibility. He says, "My critics have forgotten I am a former Lok Sabha speaker. They don't know me perhaps. You see, we will emerge as the single largest party in Meghalaya."
As he prepared he leave for his next rally, Mr Sangma sat in his chopper having a cup of tea. He looked very tired, having done six to seven rallies each day for last one month. He hopes all his hard work will pay off for his newly formed party in Meghalaya.