The state awaits with cynical anticipation how the BJP-led government will save itself from losing its grip on the seats of power in the face of the Opposition Congress challenging it to prove their majority in the house. The Opposition is certain the ruling coalition is now in a minority and therefore has no right to continue leading the government. That the BJP-led coalition government is in a severe existential crisis there can be no doubt. The most visible indication of this is the frequency at which top BJP leaders have been rushing to the state in the past one week. Right now, BJP storm troopers, Ram Madhav and Himanta Biswa Sarma, are in Imphal, to see possible ways to resolve the crisis and save the government from falling. As to what they will pull out from their hats is what everybody is waiting to see. Speculations are, one, the government could see a change of leadership if those who have deserted the alliance insist. They are so far adamant they cannot make any rapprochement with the BJP again, taking special exception to its present leadership. Two, it could be Presidents Rule if the BJP cookies do crumble and the powers that be do not want the reins of the state’s power passing on to the Congress and allies. Three, if the BJP is not able to put its house in order and win back its estranged allies, and provided everything is played by the rule of law, we could see a Congress-led government back in power. The Congress, in anticipation of the last outcome, has already constituted a Secular Progressive Front, SPF.
To make an estimate of the nature of the trouble, it will be helpful to remind ourselves of the actual strength of the different parties in the Assembly. The most important change we have seen in the rapidly altering power equations in the wake of the election to the state’s lone Rajya Sabha seat is that the number of BJP legislators has reduced to just 18 after the resignation of three of its MLAs from the membership of the Assembly, as well as from the primary membership of the party, an event unprecedented in the state’s legislative history. So far, it has been about MLA defectors hanging on to their seats even when they have forfeited their right to do so. Obviously, the three must have been either extremely disillusioned with their own party, or else were made an offer they could not refuse. Furthermore, there has been a growing arrogance in the way the government has been visibly dealing with its partners in the past few months, causing unseemly frictions between them. This became stark at the time of the outbreak of the COVID lockdown and the manner MLAs were entrusted with rice quotas to be distributed in their constituencies as assistance to the people during their confinement home. Non-BJP legislators, including the deputy chief minister Y. Joykumar and health minister, L. Jayantakumar, both of the National People’s Party, openly complained of attempts by the government to undermine their influences in their respective constituencies. They had also alleged the government of propping up their constituency rivals. Estranged therefore in particular, was the NPP, causing the latter to ultimately withdraw support to the government and align with Congress. Together with the NPP, the lone Trinamool Congress MLA and another independent legislator from the Jiribam constituency, also left the ruling alliance to side with the Congress.
Over and above these changes, is also the fate of seven Congress defectors who were till recently supporting the BJP government. Till as long as they pledged loyalty to the BJP, the Speaker Y. Khemchand was unendingly delaying their disqualification case, but on the eve of the June 19 RS election, the seven left the BJP fold. Three of them however returned to the BJP, and the Speaker immediately dismissed the disqualification case against them so that they could vote in the election. Of the remaining three were not listed amongst the voters, but one case was left undecided. However, it must be kept in mind that upon revival, the three excused MLAs are now Congress MLAs again therefore bringing up the strength of the Congress in the Assembly to 24. If there is a “No Confidence” vote in the Assembly against the government, they would have to vote with the Congress whip. The lone Trinamool Congress MLA who was also earlier in the BJP camp, but has since jumped ship to the Congress’s new front, has also been disqualified by the Speaker after taking up a suo moto case, again an unprecedented move, especially from a Speaker who has been stubbornly refusing to take up cases against known defection cases for as much as three and half years when a such refusal favoured the BJP.
Let us then see the division of numbers in the Assembly as it stands now if no further shifts happen. In all, nine MLAs are no longer MLAs, either by disqualification or resignation. They are five Congress (1+3) MLAs, three BJP and one Trinamool. This leaves 52 in the otherwise 60-member house, therefore the majority mark is reduced to 27. In the Congress-led SPF camp will be Congress 24, NPP four and Independent one, making a total of 29. In the BJP-led camp would be BJP 18, Naga People’s Front four and Lok Janshakti Party one, totalling 23. This is 29-23 victory for the Congress and allies. Even if two Congress MLAs who crossvoted in the RS election were willing to betray their party again, the equation would be 27-25. Under the circumstance, only if the three Congress defectors whom the Speaker recently excused and dismissed disqualification cases against them were also to crossvote and put themselves under the disqualified scanner again, can the BJP win. But these predictions are only if some semblance of the rule of law is allowed to prevail. Otherwise, all laws having been ruthlessly flattened, in Manipur’s political arena, no sane prediction is possible anymore. What a sordid political drama this has been, and those playing this game should also think of the approaching Assembly election one and a half years hence. The public disillusionment can undo prospects of entire parties, let those in this game be warned. As for the BJP, it had seemed a roller coaster rise despite missing a legitimate mandate, having at one point mustered a total support base of 40 MLAs by hook and crook. Today, even this purchased mandate is seemingly slipping away into thin air, and the party is faced with the prospect of a roller coaster plunge into possible disaster.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author