The near complete dismantling of rule of law and indeed any sense of public propriety when it comes to the Manipur brand of ideology-bereft politics did not just reveal itself inadvertently, but flaunted with a false air of adherence to established norms. This continues to be seen in the manner so many blindly faithful to the current regime but not to the calls of logic and reason tries to defend political defection, a phenomenon which should have been treated a indefensible under any circumstance. One of the most repeated arguments, including by a minister, is that the phenomenon of defection is not new and that the Congress regime resorted to the same strategy to strengthen their position while they were in power therefore there was no justification in making a hue and cry when the current regime, headed by the BJP, also resorts to the same means. Betrayed in this argument is the false understanding of modern democratic law as the guarantor of justice, for in this idea of law, two wrongs do not make a right. Once upon a time, in the pre enlightenment age, the primordial sense of justice in the notion of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth,” was widely seen as legitimate. It is precisely this atavistic instinctual sense of retribution which is sought to be replaced by a more rational jurisprudence determined a system of law, moderated by a universally accepted civilisational norms. For a modern civilised state therefore, acknowledging this, and living by its principle is vital. Equally important is understanding that the law is above everybody and that everybody, starting from the very head of the government to the most ordinary citizen, is equal before the law and that every one is subject to the rule of law.
It is indeed true that there were defections in the previous Congress government too, and they were equally despicable. However, there is a crucial difference in that there were no clear breaches of the rule of law then. The 10th Schedule does allow defection but under two conditions. One, if MLAs of a Party-A, wish to change loyalty to Party-B, they can do so without penalty if they constitute two thirds of all the MLAs of Party-A in the Assembly by merging with Party-B. If any one or more MLAs wish to remain with their original party, even though they would be in the minority, they would be allowed to go against the majority without attracting penalty under the 10th Schedule. Two, if MLAs of Party-A are adamantly desirous of leaving their original party even if they do constitute the requisite two thirds, they can still do so by voluntarily giving up their seats in the Assembly and contesting the seats they have vacated in the mandatory by-election on the ticket of the Party of their desire. In the days Congress was in power in the state, defection did happen, and a lot of us in the media did comment on how despicable the behaviour, but though unbecoming, no laws were broken. Either parties merged and in the cases of defectors falling short of the requisite number, they were disqualified. In the current regime however, the law has been swept under the carpet. A Congress MLA who was the first to defect was inducted as a minister and allowed to remain so for three years until the Supreme Court used its extraordinary power to intervene and have him disqualified. Another seven Congress defectors were also no disqualified for all of three years, but three of them were ultimately disqualified not because they defected but because they wanted to return to their original party. This was just ahead of the election to Manipur lone Rajya Sabha seat, thus ensuring victory for the BJP candidate. Six more Congress defectors resigned from the Assembly later and join the BJP. Of this last move of course, although it further degrades Manipur’s brand of loyalty bereft politics, there is nothing legally wrong. We do wish the political game of musical chair, loathsome at it is, was played in this manner from the beginning, thereby a semblance of respect of law allowed to remain intact.
From all that has been happening, it is quite obvious that disloyalty, selfishness and disregard of law has been made and endemic and entrenched character of Manipur politics. Given this character, politics here is also probably destined to remain echo chambers of the powers that be in New Delhi. If tomorrow another party comes to power in New Delhi, judging by past precedents, there is no reason to doubt Manipur politicians will be in a hurry to stab their original parties in the back and flock to the party in power in New Delhi. It is bewildering to imagine at this moment that the state may be already condemned to such a predicament for the foreseeable future. Maybe the answer lies in a structural transformation of India’s electoral democracy. Maybe the promise freedom from the scourge political betrayal lies in the “Proportional Representation” system of democracy followed in most of continental Europe, and not the “First Past the Post” which India inherited from the British system. Unlike in the latter, where people vote for individual candidates, in the earlier scenario, people would be voting for the parties, and depending on the vote percentages each party in contest gets, they will nominate and send their representatives to the Assembly (or Parliament). If any of these representatives becomes disenchanted with their original party, they are free to leave, but they will not take away the party’s seat in the Assembly and the party can then send another representative to replace the one which has resigned. But alas! Such structural changes cannot happen just to discipline Manipur’s politics, and instead it the change will have to be by a consensus of all of India.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author