Close observers of political acrobatics and gymnastics in Manipur in the last three weeks beginning on the 17th June, 2020 would have been thrilled beyond their imagination. Rule of the game is framed by the players themselves, who set terms of the game. Power, money, nepotism, protection against prosecution and many other unknown considerations are the unwritten, but widely understood guiding principles of terms of trade. Several elected representatives are ever ready to bid adieu to the party which helped them get elected in the election. Ideology of the political party is not important and relevant to many politicians. In Manipur, it will be hard to find politicians, who have not so far changed party affiliation in their political career. Personal convenience has always overridden claim over loyalty to the parent organization. Conscience, morality and propriety are not in the vocabulary of many politicians, who are ever ready to negotiate the price for changing loyalty. The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution which envisages to deter Members of the House of People (Parliament) and State Legislature, has been flouted with impunity and without any fear of disqualification in Manipur.
Recent political maneuverings were set in motion in Manipur with the withdrawal of support by nine MLAs in the ruling coalition to the BJP led government on the 17th June, 2020 thereby reducing the government to a minority. It may be appropriate to look back at the sequence of events since last election to the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly held in February, 2017, when no political party secured majority in the House of 60 members. Party-wise breakup of the result was: Indian National Congress (INC), 28 seats; Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), 21 seats; National People’s Party (NPP), 4 seats; Naga People’s Front (NPF), 4 seats; All India Trinamool Congress(AITC), 1 seat; Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), 1 seat; Independent, 1 seat. Such a situation of hung Assembly set off a process of horse-trading by the leading political parties. Two largest parties–Congress and BJP– tried to outwit each other by promising ministerial berths and other incentives. The younger leadership of BJP was more agile and accommodating than that of old party, Congress. While Congress Party was bargaining with potential partners on the number of ministerial berths in a conservative and rational way, BJP offered four ministerial berths to all four MLAs elected on National People’s Party and one ministerial berth to the Congress MLA who defected to BJP as soon as the results of election was announced. So, BJP was able to bring together 33 MLAs under its umbrella by sacrificing maximum ministerial berths to allies.
On the other hand, Congress Party, being the largest party with 28 elected members and having staked claim to form the government was waiting to be invited by the Governor of Manipur. Their faith of being invited was based on the belief and norm of inviting the largest party to form government and prove majority on the floor of the house within a period of 14 days. However, the Governor did not invite the leader of Congress Legislature Party to form the government. BJP, which caused defection of one MLA set up by the Congress Party to BJP, against the law laid down in the Tenth Schedule of Constitution, was able to garner the support of 4 MLAs of NPP, 4 MLAs of NPF, 1 MLA of LJP, Trinamul Congress and 1 Independent MLA, and staked claim to form government. The Governor invited the BJP led coalition, which had not taken shape as a political front, to form a new government.
One MLA of Congress Party, who defected immediately after the declaration of result, was sworn as Minister in the BJP led government. In fact, as per the provisions of the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution, this Congress MLA, who gave up his membership of Congress voluntarily would have incurred disqualification. It is questionable to allow an MLA elected on Congress ticket and defected to BJP to be sworn in as Minister under the Constitution. Had he resigned from the membership of Assembly and sought election within the next six months would have been proper and acceptable.
Further, four Ministers from NPP including the Deputy Chief Minister resigned from the posts and withdrew support to the BJP led government. They also held a Press conference announcing support to Congress Party. One MLA each of AITC and Independent MLA also announced their withdrawal of support to BJP led Government and pledged support to Congress Party.
The withdrawal of support by three MLAs of BJP, four MLAs of NPP, one MLA of AITC and one Independent MLA reduced the BJP led government to minority as they had only 18+4+1=23 MLAs in the house of 59 members, while Congress Party enjoyed the support of 27+4+1+1=33 MLAs.
On the 18th June, 2020, a coalition of 33 MLAs led by Congress formed a new “Secular Progressive Front”(SPF) approached the Speaker and Governor and requested them to convene a Special Session of the State Assembly to debate a “No Confidence Motion” to be moved by the SPF. The leaders of SPF, Okram Ibobi Singh and others met the Governor of Manipur on the 19th June, 2020 requesting her to summon a Special Session of Assembly to consider the “No Confidence Motion”. The Governor informed the leaders of the SPF that she would consider the request by examining legal position.
It may also be mentioned that seven MLAs elected on Congress Tickets started supporting BJP led government in the early part of 2017 by associating with BJP in party programmes, etc. Congress Party MLAs filed disqualification petitions against the seven MLAs. Out of the seven MLAs mentioned here, four MLAs came back to the fold of Congress Party on the 18th June, 2020. In a very swift move, the Speaker disqualified 3 Congress MLAs out of seven, who went back to the Congress fold, while three Congress MLAs who remained with BJP were not disqualified and he was prevented from taking any decision on one Congress MLA, who too went back to Congress. In a suo moto proceedings, Speaker disqualified one Trinamool Congress MLA in less than 24 hours after the latter withdrew support to BJP. Another two Congress MLAs, who had not so far openly defected to BJP, voted in favour of the BJP candidate in the election to the Rajya Sabha held on the 19th June, 2020. Congress party, in spite of having 29 supporters against 23 of BJP as per the list of elected members, prepared by the Secretary of Manipur Legislative Assembly, eligible to participate at the Rajya Sabha election, BJP candidate won the seat with 28 votes while Congress Party candidate had to be content with 24 votes. There was cross voting by five Congress MLAs in favour of BJP at the Rajya Sabha election giving a big blow to the claim of support by majority and confidence of Congress Party.
On realization of futility in remaining in the Congress camp and on persuasion of National President of NPP and convenor of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) on two counts, 4 MLAs of NPP deserted Congress camp to return to the BJP fold. They found themselves in position of strength while they remained in Congress camp. Ultimately, they deserted Congress camp to return to BJP after being promised by Central leaders of BJP of certain terms.
After visit to Delhi by Chief Minister of Manipur to Delhi and meeting with central leaders of BJP, portfolios of Finance, Science & Technology, Economics and Statistics were allocated once again to Deputy Chief Minister, who belonged to NPP.
It is reported that NPP is not very happy with the present allocation of portfolios to the Ministers of that party. Additional portfolios like Home and Power are said to be agreed to be allocated to NPP Ministers. As of now, there remains a gap between the expectation of NPP Ministers and what is allocated to them. Political stability in the state is not certain as of now as tension exists among the coalition allies. Any instability impacts the development efforts of the government. Attention of policy makers is diverted to managing political tussle and saving of government at the cost of governance. Such prolonged instability is not in the interest of the State.
The author is a retired IAS officer and former Chief Secretary, Manipur