“In big political parties, smart tribal people never get a chance. Our top priority is to build a tribal leadership,” National People’s Party chief P.A. Sangma said here on Saturday.

The party was an alternative to the two-party system tribal people faced in States such as Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the former Lok Sabha Speaker told The Hindu,

Mr. Sangma addressed gatherings in Madhya Pradesh’s tribal people-dominated districts of Mandla and Seoni on Saturday as part of his nationwide pitch to consolidate votes of tribal people for his party, which was started in January.After quitting the Nationalist Congress Party to unsuccessfully run for President last year, Mr. Sangma formed the NPP with Arvind Netam, a former Congress leader from Chhattisgarh. Since then, he has enlisted the support of Dausa MP Kirori Lal Meena from Rajasthan and is in talks with the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) here, and also the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (JVM) and Jharkhand Disom Party (JDP).

Mr. Sangma said his target was the 47 seats in the Lok Sabha and 529 seats in legislatures reserved for Scheduled Tribes, who form more than 8 per cent of India’s population. “The NPP is a common forum for tribal people. It is not necessary for other tribal parties to merge with us. For example, we are asking the GGP to fight 90 per cent of Vidhan Sabha seats and leave most of the Lok Sabha seats in M.P to the NPP.”

Even though the NPP is part of the nine-party third front in Chhattisgarh, which includes Left parties such as the CPI, CPI(M) and the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Mr. Sangma is not keen on ties with the Left.

“I don’t see much of a future for the Left. Any third front would be controlled by Mulayam, Patnaik or Jayalalithaa. It is not an alternative to the UPA and NDA. It is more advantageous for tribal people to bargain with the UPA and the NDA on issues that affect us like displacement, mining and forests,” he said.

He will visit Ranchi on June 4 for talks with the former Chief Minister, Babulal Marandi of the JVM, and Salkhan Murmu of the JDP. “I keep meeting Shibu Soren whenever we are in Delhi but the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha [JMM] is a divided house and Babulal is a more acceptable leader.”

Mr. Marandi has been trying to project himself as an alternative to Mr. Soren, who continues to hold sway in the Santhal Parganas. The GGP here has close ties with the JMM.

At public meetings organised by the GGP here, Mr. Sangma demanded that the government grant the same powers enjoyed by Sixth Schedule tribal areas in the north-east to Fifth Schedule tribal areas in the rest of the country.

At an “Indigenous Peoples Awakening Conference” in Mandla, leaders of various factions of the GGP, including the former MLA, Manmohan Shah Batti, offered their support to Mr. Sangma. Tribal people form a fifth of the State’s population. Gonds, next only to the Bhils in number, are about 35 per cent and are concentrated in five eastern districts.