MANIPUR POLITICAL CRISIS: A POLITICAL GIMMICK PLAYED AMID THE PANDEMIC

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The stage was set for the Congress and its allies to take over the Government in Manipur, just ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls, but things took a reverse turn in the blink of an eye. Unlike the rest of the political drama of the country the political crisis that recently brewed in Manipur remained neglected from the mainstream narrative. The fall and rise of the coalition government between the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the indigenous parties in Manipur, does send out a message of how politics can be a game changer in retaining power. Mumeninaz Zaman reports.

A look at the past

The BJP made inroads in Manipur after the 11th Assembly Election which was held in 2017. Despite falling short of seats, the BJP managed to cobble its allies and altogether got 31 seats in a legislature of 60 seats. The BJP said that the mandate in Manipur signals for a non-Congress government so it was natural that all the political leaders decided to come together.

Conrad Sangma of the National People’s Party (NPP), an ally of the ruling party in Manipur, said the BJP promised change. “The verdict of the people of Manipur is a verdict for change, and we will together give them that change… Under the leadership of the central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we will be able to see change in Manipur.”

However, there were several twists and turns behind this winning feat. The Congress won 28 and the BJP 21 seats. The single largest party was the Congress in a legislature of 60 seats. The N. Biren Singh led BJP and its coalition government formed an alliance by taking into account various other regional parties including the NPP, Naga People’s Front (NPF), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and one from Trinamool Congress. The surprise element was the induction of the lone defecting Congress MLA Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh, which completed the ‘magic figure’ of 31 in the 60-member assembly. Surprisingly, Shyamkumar switched to BJP without resigning from Congress and staked a claim with BJP to form the government in Manipur.

The Congress later expelled Shyamkumar and accused the BJP of murdering democracy in Manipur by its sinister efforts to remain in power in the Northeastern state. Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) president T.N. Haokip remarked, “This is probably the first time in the political history of India that an MLA-elect of an opposition party has defected and joined the ruling coalition government directly as a minister.”

‘Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram’

Things took a turn after three years of the coalition government over political instability between the BJP and its alliance government.

The BJP led coalition government faced a major political turmoil after nine MLAs, including three BJP MLAs, four MLAs from the NPP, one from Trinamool Congress and an Independent MLA resigned from the party on June 17, just ahead of the Rajya Sabha election which was slated to be held on June 19. The MLAs has withdrawn support to the BJP-led coalition government and expressed support to the Congress.

The Ministers cried foul over the developments unfolding in the Manipur government, hinting it as a political game. The crisis brewed when Deputy Chief Minister Y Joykumar Singh of NPP and BJP minister Thongam Biswajit Singh were stripped of their key portfolios. They further accused CM Biren of functioning an autocratic government in the state.

Meanwhile, the Congress started fancying to form a government under the leadership of senior Congress leader and former Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in the state with a majority in the assembly. But all their hopes shattered as the former CM Ibobi Singh was summoned by the CBI in connection with an FIR registered in November 2019 for alleged misappropriation of state government funds. This development comes after the Congress staked claim to form a government and submitted an application to the Governor of the state, Najma Heptullah, requesting her to convene a special assembly session for a no-confidence motion against the ruling government.

The BJP has set its footprints in the entire Northeastern region by taking into confidence the indigenous parties, thereby forming the North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). As such, it cannot afford to lose the momentum it has gained over the last few years. Following the defection of the ministers, NEDA Convenor and BJPs trouble-shooter Himanta Biswa Sarma along with Meghalaya CM and NPP President Conrad Sangma swung into action to address the grievances of the ministers. After several rounds of talks with the leaders, the NPP delegation was taken for a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP party President J P Nadda who assured that they will personally look into the issues and on the basis of that the NPP leaders have decided to withdraw their resignations and submit a letter of support to the BJP-led government.

Someone’s gain is someone else’s loss

Even though BJP won the Rajya Sabha seat by defeating Congress, Congress claimed that there have been poll code violations.

Surviving the political drama, Biren Singh landed in Delhi to discuss the allocation of portfolios with the party leadership. Following which Biren Singh has reallocated the portfolios of ministers, shedding some of his own departments which have now been allocated to his deputy Y Joykumar Singh. The Deputy Chief Minister, regained three of his previously held ministries in the state. The rest three NPP ministers retain the departments they had before the resignation.

However, this move has aggrieved the other BJP Legislators and Congress defectors of becoming ministers. Moreover, the NPF with four members in the 60 member house did not make any fresh gains. While NPP has four ministers, the NPF has two members in the cabinet. As per constitutional provisions, there can be a maximum of 12 ministers in the state, including the chief minister.

Amidst all the political drama lack of cohesion among the alliance was visible, and was unwanted for during the pandemic. The leaders who are entrusted to work for the public were rather engaged in retaining power. Here the BJP also played the indigenous card in keeping its hold strong in the state, which otherwise could have been affected by the withdrawal of the regional parties.

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