THE DIALOGUE BOX ft. CONRAD SANGMA
Meghalaya’s Chief Minister (CM) Conrad Sangma is a visionary who has not only planned multitudes for the state but is also working with his full force to make all his visions a reality. Talking to Travel Peacock Magazine, Sangma walks us through the state’s crucial features, the important economic sectors and how he looks forward to developing them, before he answers a round of fun questions about his love for music and his family time, amongst others.
[Q] How did you find your ground in politics?
Politics has been in our family since my father’s time. I grew up watching him be with people, serving them and doing a lot of things for the people in the state. It’s around that time that I started following him. So, politics happened to me at a very young age, I guess when I was 12 years old.
[Q] Did you always want to follow your father’s footsteps?
I’ve closely noticed how he used to meet people and connect with them, so it came naturally for me to connect with the people the way he did. I used to accompany him to programmes and campaigns and that’s when I learnt a lot from him. I also started appreciating what politics could do for the people.
[Q] Your father has been a great influence in your life. What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned from him?
Absolutely! He has been the greatest teacher for me, not only as a politician but even as a human being. I was in awe of his simplicity and humility. He was one of the most humble people I’ve ever known and now that is a quality I have high regards for. I believe humility is an important virtue in life. I also admired how hardworking he was. He would work selflessly for the people, without thinking about power, position or any kind of monetary benefits. He used to believe that work for the people and everything else would follow.
[Q] With the textiles industries in the state looking upwards, how do you see its growth charting in the near future?
Meghalaya has traditionally been a state with a rich heritage and culture, especially in terms of natural fibre, natural designs, weaving techniques and handlooms. A lot of it is integrated into our culture. In today’s time, we are seeing a surge in the demand for these kinds of products and materials. Therefore, it is a lucrative time for Meghalaya to upscale this entire sector and also the different kinds of aspects attached to it upscaling it. This is a huge opportunity wherein we should focus on the quality and material of the product, rather than focussing on the quantity and trying to sell and promote the culture that we have. This would not only be beneficial to the weavers and the textile industry but also other sectors and Meghalaya as a whole.
[Q] You currently serve as the president of the Meghalaya Cricket Association and Sports Academy. What have you planned for the state’s youngsters in the sports domain?
The people of the Northeast and Meghalaya have always been active in different kinds of sports and the results are visible, even at a national level. However, there is a huge problem of lack of proper facilities and the training is not given at an early age. The government is working towards increasing the infrastructural facilities for different sporting events at different districts and the state level. We are also ensuring that different kinds of training programmes are also given to all the sports enthusiasts.
[Q] As tourists, how can one contribute towards preserving the rich heritage of the state of Meghalaya?
Tourism is one of the most crucial sectors of Meghalaya. Our tourism is based on the environment, the beauty of our flora and fauna and the culture that we have. We have developed important strategies around a couple of important aspects therein. We hope and expect that the tourists who visit here must also discuss the different aspects of the environment and the culture, and more importantly, try to participate in ensuring that in the long run these things are maintained and sustained. We also hope that tourists who come here talk about the unique beauty of Meghalaya, with the hope that others too visit and experience this beauty.
[Q] You’re a philanthropist who has immensely contributed to giving it back to society via various platforms. What moved you to take this step?
We are in politics to serve the people, and when the purpose is to serve, we utilise all the different avenues, platforms and chances that we get. I believe, just like politics is a platform, social work is also another one. So, whenever we find an opportunity, we do our bit for society via different social works. We should come together as one big family and always try to do whatever we can to support, help and give back to the people of our state and country.
[Q] Could you tell us more about the works of the PA Sangma Foundation and how can one contribute to it?
The PA Sangma Foundation has been working towards welfare for more than 10 years now. We have been mainly focussing on two aspects viz. education and environment. Concerning the first one, we strongly feel that there needs to be proper educational infrastructure and facilities for the youngsters of the state. We started by building different schools in different areas. At the same time, we are also working towards our second aspect i.e. environment. Meghalaya happens to be one of the most biodiverse regions in the world and the impacts of climate change will be huge in this area. The PA Sangma Foundation has been working at mitigating the challenges and adapting to the solutions. It is not an easy task as everything requires financial support. We would be happy if people can come forward and support the foundation. The donations can be made online via different kinds of contributions of the donor’s choice.
[Q] We hear you’ve been extremely passionate about music. How do you plan to put Meghalaya on the music map of India and the world?
Music is immensely special to me, our state and our region as a whole. Music is deeply ingrained in our culture. It has been an important part of my life too. I strongly feel that the talent our children and youth have needs to be promoted, nurtured and brought to a level where they can make a livelihood out of it. We are working towards ensuring that we have different programmes, especially youth training programmes. We are also discussing with a lot of musicians what kind of facilities they require, what are the challenges that they face, etc. We believe music can be an important aspect of youth development and also a source of livelihood for some of the very, very talented musicians of the state.
[Q] What, according to you, are some of the crucial parameters that mark the growth of any state?
There are plenty of factors that affect the overall growth of the state and there are results of those factors. There are some very important infrastructural aspects such as road connectivity to the last mile, availability of drinking water and electricity, etc. that ensure there is economic growth and a balanced one at that. Another aspect when it comes to the economy is what are the areas that the economy is strong in. Tourism and agriculture are very important to Meghalaya’s economy because a lot of people depend upon them. So, these are the factors where we can move and take the economy to a new level. Social factors like education, health and social welfare are also very critical to us to ensure that the economy grows but at the same time, the quality of life also improves. When all these factors are put into place, we will see the results via different kinds of factors like the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) going up, health factors where the IMR (Infant Mortality Rate) or MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) will go down, other aspects about nutrition will also see improvements, and so on. What is important to remember at the end of the day is that we need to move forward as an economy but we need to also make sure that the quality of life and different kinds of social aspects like health and education also move forward along with the economic growth of the state.
[Q] What are your inspirations for life? What keeps you going?
I’ve always believed that there must be a purpose that you have in life. I believe that my purpose is to be able to make a positive difference in individuals’ lives. Therefore, every help I can offer to anybody, be it big or small, or any kind of positive change I can make in the lives of the people, drives me and motivates me to do more. No matter how tired I get, how pressurised I am, when I put this purpose in front of me and say ‘Can I do something better for these people?’, and that’s what really keeps me going.
[Q] As a CM, when do you feel satisfied with the work you have done? How do you judge its success?
I think it’s very difficult to say when one can be satisfied because it’s a process that we do. There is never a point in time when you will say all this is good enough. One would keep working to improve things. You may reach the next level and they say let’s take it to the next one, so it’s an ongoing process. I don’t think it would be fair for everybody to look at it and say ‘I’m happy and satisfied’ because then the purpose will be over. There is always that step towards making things a little better and one needs to keep working towards it.
[Q] What does your usual workday look like?
My usual workday is extremely busy but the kind of position that I’m in, all depends on me how much I want to take on my shoulders and how much interest I would like to take. I could have a hundred reviews every day, but as a CM, I must prioritise things and make some tough decisions and do the critical work first, that is to do hundreds of tasks. Prioritising and balancing all these aspects, giving it time and being able to focus on the right aspects is challenging. So, even though it’s a busy day, it all depends upon how well you can balance things.
[Q] Tell us about your family life? How do you maintain a work-life balance?
It is difficult because the demands are very high. It is not just that you need to work towards the development and tackle the issues of the state but you also need to keep a political angle to it, where you always discuss a lot of things about it with your political leaders, MLAs and colleagues. You also need to give time to the people, especially when they come and meet you. All in all, there is very little time that is left in a politician’s life. Therefore, it is important to spend quality time with your family to make the most out of what you have. I do make it a point that I spend time at least sometime during the day with my family and once a week, I’m always with them.
[Q] How do you unwind?
Getting some time alone is good enough for me to unwind. It gives me peace of mind, but of course, watching a movie or listening to some good music depending on my mood also helps me unwind.
[Q] As a person in Chair, there are a lot of ups and downs that you must’ve faced during your career, especially in tough situations. How do you tackle such situations?
Everybody goes through ups and downs in life and that is what life is all about. Whether it’s my position or any other, my field or any other, what is important is that one must always accept if there is a defeat, learn from it, improve and get back on their feet to try again. This principle of life is not just for politics, but for any walks of life. I, too, have faced a lot of challenges, I’ve contested and lost many elections, I have won some elections, sometimes the government has fallen, etc. These kinds of challenges are a part of politics and as I said, sometimes you need to accept the defeat, learn from it and move on.
[Q] What are some of the personal beliefs that you firmly stand by professionally?
My personal beliefs are also my basic principles in life that have kept me grounded. I believe humility is very important. No matter what position you have, you must never forget your roots, where you started from and the challenges that you went through when you didn’t have that position. Second, it’s important to have a purpose in life. You must know what that purpose is, why you are doing it and top it up with passion. Both these virtues are necessary for personal and professional life. If not, it is difficult to move forward properly and achieve the goals that you have set for yourself.
[Q] As a musician, if you could choose a song to be the song of your life, which one would that be?
Music is extremely diverse and everything depends upon the mood. There are different songs for different moods and situations. Hence, I don’t think it’s fair for anybody to say that a particular song could be their song. It depends upon the mood that you’re into at that moment, and which song helps you then.
[Q] What are your future plans for Meghalaya and the people of your state?
I intend to take Meghalaya to the top 10 states in India in the coming years. That’s the number one target for us and obviously, there are many factors that we need to work into for this target but yes, if you were to ask me what would be that one goal, I would say the aforementioned.
[Q] What are your personal plans for yourself?
When you’re in politics, it is quite difficult to say what your personal plans will be, for even if you make one, most of the time it doesn’t work out. So, how I see it, is to be prepared as it’s a journey, it’s a process which you need to go through and take it as it comes. That’s really what my plan is. I learn from the things as they come and move on. All I hope is that I can make a difference in peoples’ lives through this journey that I go through.