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Agatha Sangma (pictured) has the distinction of being the youngest Member of Parliament and is a Minister of State for Rural Development in the UPA government. Elected from the Tura constituency from the North Eastern state of Meghalaya, the Nationalist Congress Party MP is well aware of the rigmaroles of political life having seen her father, former speaker of Lok Sabha, P.A. Sangma go through the grind. A lawyer, environmentalist and an amateur photographer, Agatha Sangma speaks to Bar & Bench on law school, entry of foreign law firms and the problems faced by young girls from the North East.
How does it feel to hold an important portfolio of the Minister of State for Rural Development for the Government of one of the world’s largest democracies?
It is indeed a very exciting place to be in, but at the same time I realize the huge responsibility and I am very humbled to be given this opportunity at this age and I can only say that I intend to deliver to the best of my capacity.
Your experiences in FoxMandal Little?
I have very fond memories of working in FoxMandal Little. I was in the litigation team which was much smaller than the corporate side so I got to concentrate on few key areas like debt recovery and consumer grievances. Also one gets to be like a close knit family with their partners, seniors and co- associates. I must say it is these experiences in life that shape you and can take you a long way.
Why did you go to law school? Was law school seen as a stepping stone to politics?
My father was a lawyer, he told me “Someone has to use these law books of mine” so I said I will. It was that simple. My first preference was to become a veterinary doctor, but that didn’t happen. I ended up doing Masters in Environmental Management. I think all of it has been very useful in equipping me to deal with my current assignment and yes law definitely gives you a better understanding of politics and as a legislator it is crucial to understand the legal language.
How did you deal with your transition from a lawyer to a politician?
Take it one day at a time. Honestly, I have not gone through any makeover or anything, it’s just embracing your work and giving it your best. The trick is you have to enjoy and believe in what you are doing, and I am and I do.
Did the vacating of the seat by your father, P.A. Sangma, put a pressure on you to result in a life changing decision?
I think it definitely speed up the process of my entering politics. My contesting the elections was not a decision I made alone but collectively with the party and with my family.
What did you feel, when you entered the Parliament for the first time as a Minister?
I cannot sum up in one word how I felt, but it was a mix of many emotions including excitement, gratefulness, a sense of responsibility and an urge to do things that mattered. I think I feel deeply privileged to be given this opportunity and I have much to thank the Hon’ble Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, UPA Chairperson Mrs Gandhi, my party President Shri Sharad Pawar and of course my father Mr. P.A. Sangma who gave me this opportunity.
As the youngest member, what advantage do you have over the other MPs?
Age may just be a number but does have an advantage. Youth represents energy, new ideas and imagination whereas the older you get the more experience and wisdom you gain. I think both have their own advantage and I hope I learn to make full use of both, as I go along the way.
Can you share the experience of studying law from the ILS College, Pune?
I think those days in law school were clearly some of the best days of my life, one gets an opportunity to discover themselves and find their path in life. I made friends that stay with me till today. I think I was very lucky to have a good set of friends with whom I enjoyed my college life and at the same time we collectively helped each other through college. Also one gets to widen their areas of interest. We were given a chance to do diplomas in various subjects like human rights, corporate law etc. that can be useful even today no matter what you end up doing eventually. Knowledge can only benefit. So, on the whole I had a brilliant time and one that helped me shape into the person I am today.
After the completion of LLB you did further studies in the UK, a Master’s in Environmental studies. This subject is close to your heart. Can you share some inspiring moments, which would enlighten the next generation to take an active interest in environmental matters?
I have always had an inclination to work for environmental issues. I think at one point we as human beings had a choice not to think or worry about it, but today we actually don’t. It’s the main pressing issue that can only be tackled collectively and one’s individual ecological footprint makes up that collective action. I think Gandhiji put it very beautifully in these words “Live simply so that others may simply live”.
Young girls from North-Eastern states travel all the way to Delhi for their education but end up facing difficulties everywhere. How do you think this issue can be dealt with in a fair manner?
This is a very sensitive problem that is being faced by the students from the North East by both girls and boys and needs to be tackled in multiple ways. I would say firstly, yes security measures have to be put in place and in fact have now been given more attention. A separate phone number is given to ensure that the students have access to immediate police intervention when an incident is likely to take place. One main complain of student is that they do not receive co-operation from the police, so the sensitizing of the Delhi police can really help in a better response. Secondly, a change in the attitude of the general public needs to be given more focus. And it has to be a two-way process. This makes me focus on the third point that we need to have better educational institutes in the North East. This will not only cater to students who find it difficult to adjust to a big city like Delhi but more importantly make students from elsewhere in India come to the North East which will help in better and true integration of the country. I think one of the main reasons for such incidents is the feeling of alienation, and when people learn to appreciate each others’ cultures and live together, I feel this space can be filled more easily.
You are the young face of India. Most young lawyers from law schools have been demanding the entry of foreign law firms. Your stand on foreign law firms? Should they be allowed?
I think it’s fair to say that in today’s world of globalization we must allow foreign law firms’ entry into India. In my opinion it will improve the competition and quality of survival. However, the Bar Council of India and the Law Ministry is examining this proposal in light of the judgment of the Bombay High Court and a writ petition filed before the Madras High Court. The Law Ministry is examining the strengths of all stakeholders on this issue. I read in one of your articles, that BCI Chairman, Gopal Subramanium quoting that the BCI’s present stand is to oppose the entry of foreign law firms. Since he represents the Bar, we need to consult all the stake holders and not just a few on the entry of foreign law firms.