A fractured verdict in Manipur

Print edition : March 02, 2002

With no political party winning a clear majority, the State is once again headed for political instability.

THE elections held on February 14 and 21 have presented Manipur, now under President's Rule, with a hung Assembly as none of the 16 political parties secured a simple majority in the 60-member House. The fractured mandate has once again thrown Manipur into the kind of political uncertainty that has persisted ever since it attained statehood in 1972. In the last 30 years, governments have changed not less than 18 times. Add to this seven spells of President's Rule, including the present one. The elections held in February were the ninth to the Assembly, the previous round having been held in February 2000.

The Congress(I) emerged the largest single party by winning 16 of the 55 seats, results for which were declared until the time of going to press. (Its previous tally was 10 seats.) The Federal Party of Manipur (FPM) proved that it was the strongest of the five regional parties in the fray, by finishing close behind with 13 seats. The Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), a splinter group of the Congress(I), which formed the government in coalition with the FPM in 2000, won six. The performance of the Communist Party of India (CPI) was comparatively impressive; the party, which failed to win any seat in 2000, won five of the 15 seats it contested. The Bharatiya Janata Party's gamble of targeting Naga votes came a cropper, with the party winning only four seats in the hills and the Imphal valley. Its ally, the Samata Party, which was instrumental in bringing down the United Front government of the MSCP and the FPM, won three seats. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won three seats, the Manipur People's Party (MPP) two, the Democratic Revolutionary People's Party (DRPP) two and the Manipur People's Conference (MPC) one. Repolling was ordered in some of the booths in the five constituencies, the results of which had been withheld.

Samata Party leader and former Chief Minister Radhabinod Koijam, at a polling booth in Imphal.-AP

Many stalwarts of the State's politics, except R.K. Dorendra of the BJP, have lost this time around. They include Congress(I) leader and former Chief Minister Rishang Keishing, former Chief Minister and founder of the MSCP W. Nipamacha Singh (he contested on the MPC ticket), president of the FPM and former Deputy Chief Minister L. Chandramani Singh, former Speaker and NCP candidate Sapam Dhananjoy. Keishing's defeat, his first in three decades, is attributed mainly to a diktat to the voters from the underground Naga outfit, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah).

Having had a taste of the people's ire in 2001, the parties were cautious this time about avoiding horse-trading, for which Manipur politics is well-known. The alternative, therefore, was a coalition government. Political observers believed that the FPM held the key to the next government. They did not see any possibility of an understanding between the FPM and the Congress(I). The BJP, the Samata Party and the MSCP - all constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - contested the elections separately but had not ruled out a post-poll alliance. All these parties appeared keen on allying with the FPM. The Congress(I) was likely to get the support, at least from outside, of the CPI.

Political instability first gripped the State after the 1984 elections. Despite enjoying a majority of its own (30 legislators in the 60-member House), the Congress(I) was forced to seek the help of independents to form the government. Defection is a common phenomenon in Manipur politics. Many legislators have been suspended for violating the anti-defection law, but that has not deterred others from switching allegiance during a political crisis. In 1997, a group of Ministers and legislators, led by former Speaker Nipamacha Singh, broke away from the ruling Congress(I) headed by Rishang Keishing and floated the MSCP, which had subsequently formed the government.

Several party leaders had maintained on the eve of the February elections that they were averse to seat adjustments or a pre-poll alliance. They had said they would rather wait until the results were declared to forge any kind of alliance, implying the inevitability of a coalition government. Such a coalition of convenience, going by the track record of past governments, may not last the full term.

In the 2000 elections, the MSCP won 29 seats. In order to form a stable government, it engineered the defection of nine MLAs from the Opposition parties, including the MPP and the NCP. Nipamacha formed the Ministry with the FPM, which had six seats. But the government started wobbling from Day One.

The coalition did not last long. Following the fast-paced switching of political loyalties, Nipamacha resigned in February 2001, paving the way for a new coalition government headed by the Samata Party leader, Radhabinod Koijam. The Samata Party had won just one seat, but its strength increased to 12 after 10 of the 11 Congress(I) MLAs under the leadership of Koijam joined it. Koijam was supported by all Opposition MLAs, barring the Congress(I)'s Rishang Keishing. Although the BJP and the Samata Party are both partners in the National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre, the BJP, with six MLAs in the Assembly, did not join the Koijam government. It supported it from outside.

Meanwhile, the MSCP faced a split following infighting between Nipamacha and Th. Chaoba, former Union Minister of State for Food Processing. The group led by Chaoba was recognised as the real MSCP by a High Court order. Nipamacha formed the MPC and the February elections from his home constituency, Wangoi. As a result of the bickering inside the party, 18 MLAs left the MSCP for the BJP. The total strength of the BJP subsequently increased to 26, when two more MLAs from the FPM joined it.

A fresh crisis emerged when the BJP, with a strength of 26 MLAs, wanted to join the Samata Party government on the condition that the new coalition government be led by the BJP and that Koijam step down in favour of the BJP's R.K. Dorendra. This formula was not acceptable to the Samata Party. The issue was referred to the respective high commands of the two parties. However, even the intervention of Home Minister L.K. Advani and Samata Party leader George Fernandes could not resolve the crisis. The Koijam government fell after BJP MLAs voted for a no-confidence motion against it.

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