Assembly elections: Manipur

Opposing pulls

Print edition : April 14, 2017

Governor Najma HeptullaH administering the oath of office to Chief Minister N. Biren Singh in Imphal on March 15. Photo: PTI

Y. Joykumar of the National People's Party, who has been sworn in as the Deputy Chief Minister.

Okram Ibobi Singh, who was the Chief Minister of Manipur for 15 years, leaving the Congress office in Imphal on March 12. At that time the Congress, which is still the single largest party, was planning to stake its claim to form the government. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar

The BJP has outmanoeuvred the Congress in the numbers game in Manipur, but conciliating the issues of Manipur’s territorial integrity and integration of Naga-inhabited areas continues to be a challenge.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) outmanoeuvred the Congress in the final numbers game in Manipur to capture power in the north-eastern State. The BJP, which won 21 seats in the 60-member Assembly, needed the support of 10 other members to form the government. The Congress, which emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats, needed the support of three other members.

The BJP secured the support of including four Naga People’s Front (NPF) legislators, four National People’s Party (NPP) legislators, the lone Lok Janashakti Party (LJP) legislator, the lone Trinamool Congress legislator, the lone independent member of the House and a Congress legislator. The NPF and the NPP are constituents of the BJP-led North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) while the LJP is a constituent of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance at the Centre.

The Congress, unsuccessfully, had also sought the support of four NPP legislators and was counting on the support of the independent member and the lone Trinamool Congress legislator.

The first BJP-led government in Manipur, headed by N. Biren Singh, won the floor test by a voice vote on March 20. Biren Singh, a former Congress Minister, joined the BJP in October 2016. His eight-member Ministry includes Th. Shyamkumar, who won on the Congress ticket from Andro constituency but defected to the BJP on March 12, a day after the results were declared. The NPP’s Y. Joykumar Singh, who is a former Director General of Police (DGP) of Manipur, took oath as the Deputy Chief Minister. Yumnam Khemchand, the BJP legislator from Singjamei constituency, was elected Speaker by a voice vote.

The Congress legislator Kh. Joykishan insisted on voting through secret ballots on the trust motion moved by Chief Minister N. Biren Singh. But the Speaker rejected the demand. He put the motion to voice vote and announced that the “Ayes” had the majority.

Earlier in the day, the Protem Speaker, V. Hangkhalian, announced Khemchand’s election as the new Speaker. The Congress had proposed Govindas Konthoujam from Bishnupur constituency for the post. As soon as the Protem Speaker initiated the House proceedings, Congress members sought to table an adjournment motion and demanded Shyamkumar’s disqualification under the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution. They said that since Shyamkumar was elected on the Congress ticket he should not be sitting in the treasury benches and should be disqualified under the anti-defection law. The BJP, however, insisted that the Congress complaint held no ground. Rejecting the adjournment motion, the Protem Speaker also said that the matter needed due process of law and pointed out that the petition had been submitted only that morning.

The Congress accused the BJP of resorting to “horse-trading” to capture power. The BJP countered that Shyamkumar had only respected the people’s mandate to form a non-Congress government. The proceedings of the very first session of the newly constituted Assembly indicates that the issue of deciding Shyamkumar’s actual status is likely to stay alive and will be critical for the government in the State for passing Bills and official resolutions.

The size of the Ministry is limited to 12, which means only three ministerial berths now remain vacant. For Biren Singh, expanding the Ministry is expected to be a tough call. He will be able to accommodate only one party legislator as he had to concede four berths to the NPP, one to the NPF and one to Shyamkumar. Apart from the 19 party legislators outside the Ministry, the Chief Minister must keep the lone Trinamool Congress and independent member happy in order to ensure his government’s stability and smooth functioning.

There was high drama ahead of the floor test as most of the BJP legislators camped in Guwahati. They flew back only a day ahead of the trust vote.

Blockade lifted

The people of the State, particularly in the valley areas, heaved a sigh a of relief with the United Naga Council (UNC) lifting the 139-day economic blockade of National Highways 2 and 37, the two lifelines of Manipur, a day ahead of the floor test. It followed a tripartite meeting between the Central government, the Manipur government and the UNC. The UNC had imposed the blockade in protest against the creation of seven new districts by the previous Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress government. Its objection was that the move had bifurcated the “ancestral land of the Nagas”. It refused to lift the blockade unless the decision was rolled back.

It was decided at the tripartite meeting that the State government would release unconditionally the UNC president Gaidon Kamei and its publicity secretary S. Stephen, who were arrested in November 25 last year, and close all cases against them and others in connection with the blockade. The meeting also recognised the grievances of the UNC about non-compliance with the four memoranda of understanding and unfulfilled assurances of the Central government in the past on the matter. It was decided that the next tripartite meeting would be held within a month.

The BJP had promised a blockade-free Manipur during the election campaign, and this was one of its election planks. After the signing of the tripartite agreement, the Chief Minister said that the BJP had kept its election promise. Manipur went to the polls under the shadow of the blockade, which highlighted the issues of a “Framework Agreement” between the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the Central government, the integration of the Naga-inhabited areas, and the protection of Manipur’s territorial integrity.

Protection of Manipur’s territorial integrity tops the 10 Action Points inn the BJP’s Vision Document 2017 for Manipur, which was released before the elections.

The NPP, too, promised in its election manifesto to “stand for constitutional safeguard of the territorial integrity of Manipur”. The NPF manifesto, on the other hand, promised “to work for unity and integrity of the people by integrating all contiguous Naga-inhabited areas under one administrative roof and, also to provide protection to all the ethnic groups who are indigenous inhabitants of all Naga inhabited areas”. The NPF also promised to work “to facilitate in every possible manner and push forward the peace process and the Indo-Naga political dialogue to its logical end with an acceptable and honourable solution at the earliest possible time”.

Naga integration

Soon after the government was formed with the support of both the NPF and the NPP, NSCN(I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah, who is the chief negotiator of the “Indo-Naga Peace talks”, claimed that the issue of integration of Naga-inhabited areas and its people was very much alive and fell within the ambit of the “Framework Agreement”. He said that even though “Indian leaders” agreed that without integration there would not be any solution, it had to be worked through in a peaceful and democratic manner. He said this on March 21 in his speech on the occasion of the 38th Republic Day of the self-styled Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim, the parallel government run by the Naga rebel group, observed at its central headquarters at Hebron, about 40 km from Dimapur in Nagaland.

Describing the “Framework Agreement” as the “second bus which we can never afford to miss”, the NSCN(I-M) vice president, self-styled Gen (retd) Kholi, said that “the future of Nagas is now safe under this agreement.”

“The Naga people in their national assembly declared their decision that Nagalim would be a ‘sovereign independent Christian Socialist democratic Republic’. The national movement of the Nagas is inspired and guided by this principle and it has brought the Nagas thus far. Ours is a future-oriented movement. We have felt that we are no longer safe in our village-state system; we have come to know that our future is not safe in any states under Indian Constitution; it is not safe in the Shillong Accord, too. So, revolution continues,” he said. He added that “the Framework Agreement embraces all Nagas and their territories, not a part of the people and a part of the territories”.

The NSCN (I-M)’s map of “Nagalim” includes the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland and also the Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar. During the election campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the “Framework Agreement” contained nothing that went against the interests of Manipur. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also stated that “there is no mention of Manipur in the Framework Agreement”.

The Congress dared the Modi government to make public the contents of the agreement. As both the NPF and the NPP are constituents of NEDA, the BJP sees no immediate threat to the stability of the Biren Singh government. Yet, the issue of the Framework Agreement does present a challenge to the new regime.

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