In March 2008, a 30-year-old Conrad Kongkal Sangma faced his first challenge. Appointed Finance Minister when the Meghalaya Progressive Alliance was in power, he had to present the Budget in the Assembly just 10 days after he entered office. With a degree in finance, he tackled it easily.
Ten years later, after he was sworn in as Chief Minister on Tuesday, the challenge for Mr. Conrad is more complex. He is leading an alliance of five parties in a State where such coalitions have been far from stable. Soon after the swearing-in, he told presspersons that leading the alliance would be a challenge and he would like to take everyone along.
Unlike his elder brother James K. Sangma and younger sister Agatha Sangma, he did not contest the Assembly elections in February. Throughout the campaign, the National People’s Party (NPP) projected Prestone Rynsong as its chief ministerial candidate, but the parties supporting the NPP government were firm that Mr. Conrad should lead the government.
A voice in Parliament
Mr. Conrad was elected to the Lok Sabha from Tura after the sudden death of his father, P.A. Sangma, in April 2016. He was keen on completing his term in Parliament. On Sunday, when the allies started projecting him as Chief Minister, Mr. Sangma said he had come to Shillong with a bag and two shirts and was planning to go to Delhi to attend the parliamentary session.
His father launched the NPP in 2013. Mr. Conrad assumed presidency of the party in 2016 and has taken it to new heights. The party won just two seats in the 2013 Assembly elections, but increased the number to 19 in 2018, emerging as the second largest after the Congress. The party’s vote share also increased from 8.8% to 20%. Under Mr. Conrad, the NPP has emerged as a pan-Meghalaya party, winning not only in the Garo Hills but also across the State.
The NPP has also increased its presence in neighbouring Manipur. In the 2017 Assembly elections in Manipur, the NPP won four seats, and the party MLA, Y. Joykumar Singh, became the Deputy Chief Minister in the BJP-led government.
Mr. Conrad entered politics in 2005, but lost in the elections from the Selsella Assembly constituency. Between 2009 and 2013, he was the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly. He lost in the Assembly elections, again, in 2013.
Now, Mr. Conrad, a soft-spoken politician connected to the grassroots, has to balance the interests of different parties. Another point political observers make is that he should create a niche for himself and come out of the shadows of the BJP.