Fuzzy verdict in Manipur

Published : Mar 04, 2000 00:00 IST

With no political formation winning a clear majority, the government formation process in Manipur hinges on any defections and splits.


IN Manipur, although the ruling United Front has emerged as the single largest group by winning 29 seats and begun the process of government formation, it is clear that the two-party alliance will find it difficult to have a smooth run. Having failed to secure an absolute majority in the 60-member House, the United Front, comprising the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), with 23 seats, and the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM), with six seats, is looking to smaller parties to gather the required strength .

W. Nipamacha Singh, Chief Minister and MSCP leader, submitted a list of 36 MLAs to Governor Ved Marwah on February 27, to stake the Front's claim to form a government. L. Chandramani Singh, Deputy Chief Minister in the outgoing Ministry, said that three MLAs each had broken away from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Manipur People's Party (MPP) in order to support the United Front. Neither the Congress-led Secular Democratic Front (SDF), with 15 seats, nor the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Mani pur Democratic Alliance (MDA), with eight seats, was in the reckoning for government formation.

The results for two seats - the insurgency-affected Henglep and Tipaimukh - will be declared after elections are held there on March 8. Repolling was ordered in some booths of Henglep and the election was countermanded in Tipaimukh following the murder o f Janata Dal (United) candidate S. Songate by extremists on January 31. (Although five persons were killed in election-related clashes, the boycott called by the underground extremist outfit, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah), fai led to evoke any significant response. "Surprisingly, the polling in Naga-dominated areas was more than 70 per cent," State Chief Electoral Officer D.S. Poonia said.)

THE Congress(I), which ruled the State for the greater part of its existence, has lost the political dominance. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, it lost both the seats in the State as a result of the rivalry between former Chief Minister Rishang Keishing and his one-time deputy Radhabinod Koijam, who has now been elected from Thangmeiband. The Congress(I) contested the Assembly elections for the first time in alliance with the Left parties under the six-party SDF, which includes the Manipur People's Par ty (MPP), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Janata Dal (Secular) and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). The Congress(I) won 10 seats, the MPP four and the JD(S) one. For the first time, the CPI failed t o win any seat.

Surprisingly, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) opened its account in the State by winning one seat. The victory of the four Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidates is significant in the context of the United Front's frantic effort to establish a stable government. P.A. Sangma, general secretary of the NCP, is said to be in touch with MSCP leaders with an offer of support on the condition that the MSCP sever its ties with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and engineer a split in the Congress(I). ( The United Front of Manipur is an ally of the BJP-led NDA. The MSCP's working president, Thounoujam Chaoba Singh, is the Union Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports.)

The BJP did not have an electoral understanding with the United Front. On the eve of the elections it floated the MDA with the Samata Party, the Janata Dal (United) and the Kuki National Assembly (KNA). The BJP's decision to snap ties with the ruling par ty and contest all the 60 seats on a separate platform suggests its determination to have a State-level political network and a say in the formation of a new government. To a great extent its move has been successful. The BJP, which has had a presence in the State since the mid-1980s, has strengthened its position by winning six seats. The Samata Party and the JD(U) have one seat each. The BJP had no legislative presence in the State until Chungkakhao Doungel, a Kuki, defected from the Manipur People's Party (Democratic) in April last. During his maiden visit to Imphal in April, BJP president Kushabhau Thakre roped in former Congress(I) Chief Minister R.K. Dorendra and several others. The BJP's efforts to join the Nipamacha Government with the apparent motive of contesting the elections from a vantage point came to naught following the CPI's threat to leave the coalition.

The MDA is now in a position to bargain with the United Front which is likely to induct BJP representatives into the Ministry. Even if the BJP does not become a coalition partner, the Front will seek to maintain a rapport with it as it may need its suppo rt in the event of a split, which is not uncommon in Manipur politics.

The results have once again proved that voters in this hilly State are inclined to support the formation that is in alliance with the party in power at the Centre.

Since attaining statehood in 1972, Manipur has rarely witnessed political stability. The Congress(I) is the only party to have had at least 30 legislators in the 60-member Assembly. The party broke the barrier in the 1984 elections, but was yet forced to seek the help of independents to form a government.

Another facet of the State's politics is that most of the sitting legislators invariably fail to retain their seats. This time too, 11 MLAs from the previous House were defeated. Prominent among them are Assembly Speaker Karam Babudhon Singh, Congress(I) heavyweight Debendra Singh, former Chief Minister R.K. Ranabir Singh of the MPP, and I. Lala of the MSCP.

The State has seen seven Chief Ministers but not one of them completed a full term. Chief Ministers and governments have changed no less that 16 times since 1972. Add to this six spells of President's Rule, and the picture of political instability is com plete. On two occasions, President's Rule was imposed after dissolving the Assembly. The Assembly was kept in suspended animation on four other occasions.

Defection is the bane of Manipur politics. Several legislators have been suspended for violating the anti-defection law, but that has not deterred other hopefuls from switching allegiance during a political crisis. In 1997, a group of Ministers and MLAs led by former Speaker Nipamacha Singh broke away from the ruling Congress(I) headed by Rishang Keishing and floated the MSCP, which subsequently formed the government. Keishing has been re-elected from the Phungyar constituency in Ukhrul district for the eighth time since 1969. Nipamacha Singh has been elected from Wangoi.

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