A spell of President's Rule

Print edition : June 09, 2001

Under pressure from the Samata Party, the BJP's central leaders opt for President's Rule in Manipur.

ON June 3, after a fortnight-long political turmoil, Manipur was brought under President's Rule. Governor Ved Prakash Marwah recommended this measure in the wake of the political crisis caused by the fall of the Samata Party-led United Democratic Alliance (UDA) government. Chief Minister Radhabinod Koijam had failed to cobble together another coalition with majority support. The option of exploring ways of forming another popular government, however, has been kept open as the Assembly would remain in suspended animation.

Manipur Governor Ved Prakash Marwah.-V. SUDERSHAN

The crisis began when the three-month-old Koijam government was defeated in a vote of confidence in the Assembly on May 21. Although the Bharatiya Janata Party's central leadership issued a whip to its MLAs to support Koijam, 24 of them voted against the government. In the 60-member House, 18 members voted in favour of the confidence motion and 39 against it. State BJP leader R.K. Dorendra, who aspired for the Chief Minister's post and Congress(I) leader in the House and former Chief Minister Rishang Keishing abstained. One member, Tangminlien Kigpen, was disqualified.

The Samata Party has a strength of 13, and the government needed the support of the BJP MLAs for survival. The State BJP's opposition to Koijam was described as an "act of betrayal" by the Samata Party's central leaders, who said that despite their party being the "most loyal" ally of the BJP the National Democrtic Alliance (NDA) and the BJP's top leaders having repeatedly assured support to the Koijam government, BJP MLAs voted against the government. In the February 2000 Assembly elections the Samata Party won three seats but its strength increased to 13 early this year when 10 of the 11 Congress(I) MLAs, led by the Congress(I) Legislature Party leader Koijam, joined it. The State Samata Party under Koijam was instrumental in the collapse of the 11-month-old coalition government of the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) and the Federal Party of Manipur (FPM), headed by Wahengbam Nipamacha Singh, in February this year. In its efforts to topple the Nipamacha Singh government Koijam caused a split in the MSCP. The MSCP was split in two groups, one led by Nipamacha Singh and the other by Choaba Singh, Union Minister of State for Food Processing. Signi-ficantly, the MSCP faction led by Nipamacha Singh supported Koijam when the latter staked its claim to form the new government. This is believed to be a move by Nipamacha to check Choaba Singh's political influence in the State. The Choaba faction, with eight of the 29 MSCP MLAs, also supported Koijam. Eventually, apart from the lone Congress(I) legislator, Rishang Keishing, all MLAs of various political parties, such as the BJP (6), the FPM (4), the Manipur People's Party (MPP) (one), the Janata Dal Secular (one), the Nationalist Congress Party (2), and the MSCP Nipamacha faction (21), and the MSCP Choaba faction (8) supported the Koijam-led UDA.

In the last Assembly elections, the BJP won six seats. These legislators are described by its central leadership as the party's "orginal" MLAs. The BJP's central leaders found it difficult to explain how and when suddenly the number of BJP legislators rose to 24. Koijam alleged that State BJP leader Dorendra Singh had engineered a split in the Nipamacha faction of the MSCP on the eve of the confidence vote. Eighten MSCP MLAs joined the BJP. It was under Dorendra's leadership that the Progressive Democratic Alliance (PDA) was formed with the intention to form an alternative government.

Leaders of the BJP and the Samata Party (from left) R.K. Dorendra Singh, Jana Krishnamurthy, Jaya Jaitley, Kushabhau Thakre, George Fernandes, V.V. Krishna Rao and Radhabinod Koijam at a joint meeting at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on May 28.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

Immediately after Koijam lost the confidence vote, Dorendra and some other BJP legislators rushed to Delhi to convince the central leaders that the BJP, with the help of some regional parties, was capable of forming an alternative government. The Samata Party did not approve of this move. Its central leaders, particularly George Fernandes, who is the convener of the NDA, and Union Minister Nitish Kumar, threatened to pull out from the NDA if the BJP central leaders succumbed to the pressure from Manipur. At one stage the Samata Party threatened to withdraw support to the BJP-led government in Jharkhand headed by Babulal Marandi. Fernandes sought the intervention of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Union Home Minister L.K. Advani in the crisis. On May 28, a meeting was held with Samata and BJP leaders in the presence of Vajpayee and Advani and it was decided that neither the BJP nor the Samata would be in the race for power in Manipur. Samata leaders urged the BJP president Jana Krishnamurthy to restrain the BJP legislators from straying away from the decisions taken on the May 28 meeting. "All our six MLAs, who won on our ticket, are loyal to the party... I cannot say much about the others who joined the BJP after the elections," Jana Krishnamurthy told mediapersons in reply to a question whether the central leadership's objection to forming a government in Manipur would affect the party in the State. From the outset the Samata Party wanted either restoration of the Koijam government or imposition of President's Rule.

In an attempt to thwart the move for President's Rule, Dorendra Singh and Assembly Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy Singh tried to garner support from different political parties and prove to the Governor that they enjoyed majority. But Dorendra was specifically asked by the BJP president not to approach the Governor with the claim to form the government.

Meanwhile, a number of political formations surfaced in the State, each claiming to be in a position to form the government. Before sending his report to the Centre for the imposition of President's Rule, the Governor told mediapersons in Imphal that he had listened to the claims of all of them but none was convincing. The claims, he said, were all based on "hypothetical support".

Since attaining statehood in 1972, Manipur has rarely witnessed political stability. It has seen nine Chief Ministers, none of whom completed a full term. Chief Ministers or governments have changed not less than 16 times. Add to this seven spells of President's Rule, the last being the one after the fall of the Koijam government. The Assembly has been kept in suspended animation on six occasions.

Political instability appeared in Manipur first after the 1984 polls. Despite winning 30 seats in the 60-member House the Congress(I) had to seek the help of independents to form the government. Defection is the bane of Manipur politics. Several legislators have been suspended for violating the anti-defection law, but that has not deterred others from switching allegiance, causing political crises. In 1997, a group of Ministers and MLAs, led by Nipamacha Singh, broke away from the ruling Congress(I) headed by Rishang Keishing and floated the MSCP. In the March 2000 elections the MSCP won 29 seats. The MSCP engineered the defection of nine MLAs from opposition parties, including the MPP and the NCP. Nipamacha formed his Ministry in coalition with the FPM which won six seats. Subsequently, two MLAs broke away from the FPM. Cases under the anti-defection law are pending against nine MLAs who defected from the MPP and NCP and joined the MSCP.

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