I was stunned when I was informed of the sad demise of Shri Purno Sangmaji this morning. It was unbelievable that the person who had been to my house the other day to have meals with floor leaders and whips of all parties was no more. He was all of 68.
Back to the lunch, I still have the image of Sangmaji trying to manipulate “bafla-baati” with a spoon. It is not eaten that way, use your hands, I told him. He smiled and started eating with his hands. And, there he was, having a smooth sailing thereafter.
Sangmaji was always very low-key, never seeking attention. A delegation of all members from the Northeast was in my chamber two days ago. They wanted to raise some issues specific to their region. I suddenly noticed that Sangmaji was also among them. Arre Sangmaji bhi hain (Oh, Sangmaji is also there), I couldn’t help exclaiming. I am sure, as the longest-serving member from the Northeast and as a former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, he would have been the guiding spirit for all of them, but he would not use this opportunity to flaunt it. He would rather understate his presence.
After he ceased being the Speaker, Sangmaji never used his erstwhile position to seek time in the House for speaking. He was naturally well up on parliamentary rules, procedures and conventions. Never did he peddle that knowledge to score a point over someone else or to impress the House. He conducted himself like any other member.
During my long parliamentary career, I have seen many Speakers. Somebody was too strict, somebody got provoked very fast, somebody was a little too stiff about rules and procedures, but Sangmaji was the most friendly with members. He had a very distinct style. If the House would be in a state of disorder, Sangmaji would lean back on his chair, simply smiling, ensconced in his seat. He would try wit, humour and silence, whichever way it worked. If nothing helped, he would put up the expression of an innocent child, who, when angry, has vowed not to talk to you. He looked very sweet with all those expressions.
As the Speaker, he was very considerate to members and tried to give an opportunity to everybody to have his say. He entered the Lok Sabha in 1977 and this was his ninth term. He served the Meghalaya Assembly as well. People saw him work in various capacities — as the Speaker, a Union minister and a state leader. He shared a strong bonding with his people, which explained his abiding popularity. He was able to endear himself to everyone he came in contact with in the course of his campaign in the states during the last Presidential election.
Sangmaji was a tribal leader from the Northeast, but he had a national profile and outlook. That is why he acquired a high stature.
It is difficult to reconcile to his departure. For me, it is a humbling moment, which serves to remind me how vulnerable everyone of us is. There is nothing in our hands. There is some Supreme Power, which decides our fate.