EDITORIAL: Wanted: An Active Opposition

Governance failure by itself reflects the overall rot in society but add an ineffective, toothless Opposition to the scenario and what we get is the perfect recipe for a place or a people to go to the dogs. There is of course the fourth estate or the media, to keep a watch over the acts of commission and omission of the Government and its various agencies, but there is only so much that the media can do in a place like Manipur. It would be wishful thinking to even entertain the thoughts of the crusade like campaign taken up by the Express group against the then Rajiv Gandhi regime during the days of Bofors and  when Gandhi tried to enact the Anti-defamation Bill in Parliament.

However in our own little way, the media has been doing its best and one just has to recall how the media played a crucial role after the June 18, 2001 uprising, when so many wild, communal and unfounded stories started doing the round. It was the media, not a single Government agency, which awoke and stirred the conscience of the people when little Elizabeth was kidnapped and later found killed and dumped in a sack at Tera Sadokpam and again it was the media which highlighted the Manorama incident in the right perspective that the Prime Minister had to personally fly down to Imphal and constitute the Jeevan Reddy Commission to take a fresh look at all the clauses of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and to put in their recommendations. What happened later is a different story, but the media in Manipur conducted itself in an exemplary manner when the skeletal remains of Muheni Martin and Hriini Hubert were found on a hillock in Senapati district.

Sharmila’s name has today crossed the border of not only Manipur but also the boundary of India to be given an international award in Gwangjou some years back. In fact it is the media which has been keeping the people aware of the fact that there is a woman who has launched a lone battle to get the draconian law AFSPA scrapped. These are duties that are expected from any journalist or a newspaper institution and there is nothing to gloat over it. However we have mentioned some of these points because the Government and their employees as well as the Opposition need to be taught something as simple as the duty that comes along with perks and privileges of the office he or she occupies.

One question that has not been formally asked but highly needed is, what have the Opposition parties been doing all these years? No one is expecting them to overthrow the Government, but at the least they should try to read the pulse of the people and corner the Government when it matters. A case in point is the manner in which the Council of Teachers’ Association abruptly called off their agitation after a meeting with the Chief Minister, recently. Call us die hard optimists or anything close to it, but we had expected the Opposition parties to come out and have their say forcefully and of course question how a deal was struck, after putting the students to days and months of anxiety over the forthcoming HSLC examination.  Accountability means the responsibility for a work done or not done and in as much as the Government of the day is accountable for all the ills we see around, the Opposition too is accountable, not for dipping their fingers in the moolah, but for failing to discharge their duties as an Opposition and corner the Government.

A look at the Lok Sabha and the uproar kicked up over the 2G Spectrum scam, the infamous appointment and later dismissal of PJ Thomas as chief of the Central Vigilance Commission and of course the cry and protest raised against the mass scale corruption in the preparation for the Commonwealth Games, which India hosted last year, are all examples of a vibrant and active Opposition. Of course we do not have a Sushma Swaraj or an Arun Jaitely amongst us, but this is no reason why the Government should not be grilled on issues which have a direct impact on the lives of the common citizen. At the moment the Budget session of the Assembly is on and while we do understand that questions pertaining to any Government Departments are discussed thoroughly on the day its budget allocation is placed on the floor of the House, there is the Question Hour, when any member of the House can raise any question pertaining to any Government Departments and the Minister or the man in charge of the said portfolio is bound to give an answer.

We also have the provision of the zero hour when members are entitled to ask questions or raise issues and bring them to the notice of the Minister concerned. In other words, the Opposition is given ample opportunities to keep the Government on its toes, if it had the conviction and willingness to do it. The Electricity Department is presently in the middle of an undesirable situation, constraining it to crack the Electricity Act to penalize defaulters, illegal connections etc. That this followed after a PIL was filed by three persons from Manipur is not the issue, but two very prominent points that stand out and continue to disturb us is the failure of the Opposition to take this up with the Government and the stoic silence maintained by the Power Minister Phungzathang Tonsing.

In fact, ever since words of the PIL started doing the round, it has been left to the young and energetic Chief Engineer of the Department, N Sharat to field all the uncomfortable questions that have been raised. Or is a matter as serious as the one taken up by the Electricity Department does not warrant the Power Minister to drop his sphinx like posture and become an active participant? Doesn’t this amount to abdicating one’s responsibility? The enigmatic, sphinx like persona suits Sonia Gandhi, no doubt, but not all the politicians, including Mr. Tonsing. Sometimes it pays to learn that the VIP tag comes along with a price and as for those in the Opposition, being in power is not only about contesting the election. One can contribute and do much as an Opposition member.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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