Late P A Sangma, who became Lok Sabha Speaker for the first time in 1996 when the Congress was in opposition, could have been re-elected unanimously in 1998 had G M C Balayogi not arrived in Parliament House at the eleventh hour.
Sangma, who chaired the proceedings during the 13-day government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was informed by the BJP that it had no objection to his candidature as Balayogi’s flight from Andhra Pradesh to Delhi got delayed.
This interesting nugget is in the book penned by Shakti Sinha, a former bureaucrat and close associate of Vajpayee. Sinha’s book, Vajpayee: The Years That Changed India, gives a detailed narration of difficulties faced by Vajpayee and the BJP in forming the government though the NDA was close to majority and no other party made a claim to form the government in 1998.
Sinha, his private secretary, said Sangma was keen on getting re-elected as Speaker but wanted a unanimous election. Sangma had called on Vajpayee formally after the swearing-in during which he pointed out that he had been a fair presiding officer in his first term.
“Vajpayee was non-committal, but Sangma did not look disappointed when he left,” Sinha writes. Another veteran BJP leader L K Advani also seemed to have taken a stand that it was not necessary for the next Speaker to be from the BJP. “Sangma made it clear that he would like to be elected unanimously and would not take part in a contest. Vajpayee did not seem comfortable, far from confident,” he writes.
BJP was in discussion with the N Chandrababu Naidu-led TDP, which was being pressured by Left parties to not support the NDA government.
A day before the election, Vajpayee told Naidu over the phone that the TDP could have its candidate as Deputy Speaker. But “Naidu played hard to get” and succeeded in making Vajpayee agree on his candidate for the post and conveyed the name – Balayogi – on the morning of the election day. “Unfortunately, Balayogi was somewhere in Andhra and nominations could only be filed till twelve noon. His flight got delayed and he made it to Parliament House literally at the eleventh hour. I remember waiting with few others at the closest gate of Parliament House, and running with him so that the nomination could be filed. He made it just about a minute or two before the deadline,” Sinha writes.
Amid the uncertainty, Sangma had been informed by Madan Lal Khurana, then parliamentary affairs minister, that the BJP would have no objection to his candidature. “Assured of his unanimous election, Sangma too had filed his nomination,” the book says. But Balayogi won the election by voice vote — the Congress and the other opposition parties did not ask for a vote — and Sangma was “quite peeved”when Parliament was convened and lambasted Vajpayee during the debate on the vote of confidence.
Sinha writes: “To be fair to Sangma, he had obviously been led to believe that he was going to be elected speaker. The people responsible for pushing Sangma’s candidature which had the unintended consequence of forcing Naidu to choose sides, had certainly miscalculated.” However, later in 2012, when Sangma contested for the President’s office against the Congress-led UPA candidate Pranab Mukherjee, who became the President, BJP, AIADMK and BJD had extended their support to him.
The book also gives a detailed account of the pressure tactics applied by smaller allies and regional parties, whose number propped up the Vajpayee government — the government fell after 13 months after AIADMK withdrew support.
“…It was not just Jayalalitha, but almost all NDA constituents who wanted the governments in the states to be dismissed, since it was run by their political opponents,” it states.
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