Meghalaya gets first non-tribal speaker

 SHILLONG: Known for setting path-breaking trends in the arena of participatory democracy, a predominantly tribal Meghalaya assembly on Monday elevated its lone non-tribal legislator Abu Taher Mondal to the office of the Speaker.

Elected unopposed, Mondal, the only non-tribal in the 60-member 9th assembly, was felicitated with equal emotion by members from both the Treasury and Opposition benches in an emotionally surcharged atmosphere with words of praise.

"It gives me immense pleasure to address you as speaker," chief minister Mukul Sangma said. He added that the people of the state would celebrate the "vibrant nature of democracy" involving all sections of people in the state. He also recalled that Mondal was the first "non-indigenous" minister to have been inducted by the late chief minister BB Lyngdoh in 1998.

Leader of Opposition and former CM Donkupar Roy of the United Democratic Party (UDP) said Mondal had "created history" by becoming the first-ever minister and now first speaker in the state from the minority community.

Observing that Mondal was the only non-tribal MLA in the house, Roy urged the new Speaker to represent the tribals of the state outside. "People should know us through you," the veteran leader told the public representative from Phulbari, Garo Hills.

Former CMs DD Lapang and Salseng Marak showered praises on Mondal for his "balanced mind" and expressed confidence that he would uphold the reputation of Meghalaya assembly for its high standards of dignity and decorum.

Expressing "great joy" over his election as Speaker, Ampareen Lyngdoh (Congress) said, "You are a man of great discipline that women really appreciate in you".

Emphasizing that irrespective of caste, creed or religion, every member of the society should be given his or her rightful place, Ampareen exhorted the speaker, "You can show that a non-tribal can be a trumpeter of tribals of the state".

Stating that Mondal was a man of "very few words", Congress legislator RV Lyngdoh said it was befitting for him to become speaker as he would have to speak the least. Congratulating the 15th speaker of the assembly, former speaker MM Danggo recalled that it was Mondal who had initiated measures for provision of pension benefit to former legislators.

Former home minister HDR Lyngdoh observed that it had taken 26 years for a Non-tribal to become a minister in Meghalaya, even as he observed that the today's election of Mondal as Speaker reflected integration not only inside the house but also outside.

Stating that it was a "historic moment", Paul Lyngdoh of UDP urged the speaker to "rise above all issues of ethnicity and party politics". Pointing out that Mondal, who fought the last elections as a Congress candidate was, until recently an Independent, Paul said the new speaker has once again to "remove the jersey of a team player" and "become a referee".

Several other legislators, including first-timers, showered praises on the "gentleman speaker" even as they reposed full faith in him and assured the chair of their "complete cooperation". Members also requested the speaker, a qualified engineer to ensure that a new assembly building got shape during his tenure in the high office.

Rising to reply, a visibly overwhelmed speaker assured the house that he would conduct business of the house with integrity and uphold the independence of all members irrespective of their positions or party affiliations.

"My name or looks may not be synonymous with a tribal, but I will represent the state and speak on behalf of all people. I not only represent the non-tribal community but also the tribals," the speaker said.