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Politics: Manipuri Style

In the last Manipur Legislative Assembly elections held in February 2000, three alliances contested. The first alliance – the ruling parties constituted the United Front: the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM), and both regional parties. The Indian National Congress (INC), the Manipur People’s Party, the oldest regional party, the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Left parties, constituted the second one, known as the Secular Democratic Front. The third front was formed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United). Other parties too contested.

No single party won a majority. The Table below shows the position:

Sl.No Alliances Parties Party Wise Strength
After Election After Formation of Nipamacha Ministry During Radhabinod Ministry Formation
A United Front (i) MSCP

 

(ii) FPM

23

 

6

31 (+8)

 

6

13 (-18) Nipamacha + Chaoba factions

2 (-4)

B Secular Democratic Front (i) INC

(ii) MPP

(iii) JD(S)

11

4

1

11

1 (-3)

1

1 (-10)

1

1

C

 

 

 

Manipur Democratic Alliances

 


(i) BJP

(ii) Samata Party

(iii) JD(U)


National Congress Party(NCP)

Rashtriya Janata Dal

Independent

Total

6

1

1


5

1

1

60

6

1


(-3)

1

60

26(+20)

13(+12)


2

1

60

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The United Front, however, captured the largest number of seats or rather the MSCP winning 23 seats in the 60 – member house. Within days the strength of the MSCP increased. When Wahengbam Nipamacha Singh, the leader of the United Front, was invited he submitted a jumbo size ministry – a 34-member one, having 22 cabinet ministers, 11 ministers of state among them, 5 ministers having independent charges. Media commented that Nipamacha`s ministry was the largest in Manipur`s 28 years of history of statehood.

An essential feature of Manipur politics is horse-trading and change of party affiliation after elections. MSCP was able to bring at least 8 members to its fold – 3 from Manipur People’s Party (MPP), 3 from National Congress Party (NCP), 2 – one each from Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the JD (U). Throughout the period i.e. aftermath of the February election to the fall of Radhabinod Koijam`s ministry (May 2001), the game of horse-trading went on. Even though in the beginning, the MSCP gained 8 seats it lost 18 seats, the INC 10 out of 11, the FPM 4 out of 6; the BJP gained 20 whereas the Samata Party gained 12.

The tendency of joining the ruling parties at the center has been a continuing process since a long time for various reasons. Also the logic is that once the election is over, the impression is that the party control is over. For them the financial help extended to them during the time of election becomes irrelevant, which is likely to caution the political parties to finance future elections. Stricter control cannot be ruled out. On the other hand, it also indirectly means that the promise made by them in their party manifestos is thrown to the winds. This is one of the reasons why the people of Manipur have lost faith in them. After the elections, distance between the elected and the electorates become so wide, which is not a healthy sign in the practice of democracy.

After the fall of Nipamacha ministry in February 2001, Radhabinod was sworn in as chief Minister. A former congressman, Radhabinod switched over to Samata Party which now had 13 members from a single member representation. Even though his ministry was supported by the BJP, the ministry could not last long. When the BJP withdrew its support, it fell. For some time there was much confusion regarding political affiliations. When the chances of forming a new ministry was exhausted, the Manipur Governor recommended President’s Rule and the Assembly was kept under animated suspension.

One of the reasons why there is political instability is that every member of the Legislative Assembly wants a lucrative portfolio for which they switch parties. This process went on even as the people of Manipur suffered from the non- payment of salaries, pensions, shortage of fuel, joblessness (more than 14 per cent of the population is jobless), fake appointments, charges of corruption, bribery and above all problems of law and order. This is the reason why the people of Manipur became indifferent to their elected representatives. Then came one of the most crucial issues: Indo-Naga Ceasefire Agreement without Territorial Limits, creating a sense of fear for disintegration of Manipur.

Ceasefire agreement without territorial limits invited a strong resentment from the public. Despite repeated passing of resolutions to protect the territorial limits by the assembly, the agreement gave a blow to the larger section of the people of Manipur. Protests, rallies, demonstrations for days, imposition of curfews could not bring normalcy. 18 precious lives were lost. Manipur Legislative Assembly building was burnt down. Official quarters of ministers were destroyed. Ministers were dragged out from their quarters. Government vehicles were destroyed. Despite the curfew, firings, demonstrations, protests could not be contained for days. Most of the MLAs could not remain in Manipur. That is the reason for the allegation that they took shelter in New Delhi, where no doubt, they also urged central leaders not to extend the ceasefire beyond Nagaland.

Now, the State Assembly is dissolved and the election is coming. Most probably it is likely to take place sometime in February 2002. Even though talks about election are doing the rounds, many people are quite lukewarm about the prospect of holding elections. Organizations which spearheaded the agitation against the extension of ceasefire to Manipur are opposed to the holding of elections during the one-year mourning period which ends on June 18 2002 for those 18 precious lives. If the political parties do not want to give a wrong impression, they could urge the Election Commission to postpone the Elections beyond the period of mourning in view of the fact that the political leaders were not allowed to pay floral tributes for the 18 lives for which they must have felt humiliated.

Manipur is now passing through a critical stage. Political parties are now cautious not to consider the cases of ‘tainted or corrupt politicians’ for party tickets. In this connection the INC and the MPP have already declared their policies. MPP President O. Joy has already announced that politicians who were involved in corrupt practices and scandals will not be admitted to his party. They may join the party after a screening committee clears their cases.

Election in Manipur will be different this time. One reason is that ceasefire hangover is still around in the minds of the people and more so among the tribes besides the Meiteis. And perhaps it is going to be an election issue. Secondly, there may be a new set of people who having established a reputation during the ceasefire, might fight the Elections. The political parties are likely to move very cautiously as they now strongly feel that anti-people undemocratic practices are likely to come under scrutiny. They need to make changes to the roles they play in Manipur politics. Some say there might be a change in the positive direction.

*The article is written by K. Ibo Singh., PhD

*The author is an Associate Professor, Dept of Political Science at Manipur University, Imphal

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Related Sites:

*The Sangai Express- Largest Circulated News Paper In Manipur
*E-Pao! :: Complete e-platform for Manipuris


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