Ministerial berths redistribution in the recent Union Council of Ministers reshuffle has obviously brought joy to Manipur as one of its MPs, Dr. R.K. Ranjan, from amongst four from the state (two each in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, including nominated RS member Mary Kom) has now been made a Minster of State in charge of two separate responsibilities, under two different ministries, Foreign Affairs and Education. R.K. Ranjan, as those of us in the state know, is a former registrar of the Manipur University. He has also always taken a keen interest in environment and border affairs especially with regards to the India-Myanmar relations. This background would have to be kept in mind in any assessment or anticipation of what the Narendra Modi government may be looking for in inducting him into the ministry. Over and above this, though often not taken cognizance of in the blindness caused by the news dazzle of the changes, is the strategy of the BJP as a political party on the local political arenas, which has little to do with governance fine tuning.
R.K. Ranjan was inducted as a Minister of State, which is great, though unfortunately without Independent Charges, therefore by definition answerable to the Cabinet Ministers in charge of the same portfolios given to him. R.K. Ranjan shares both of his responsibilities as Minister of State with two other Ministers of State. While MOS Foreign Affairs will be shared with V. Muraleedharan, MOS Education will be shared with Annpurna Devi. The Cabinet Minister Education is Dharmendra Pradhan and Cabinet Minister Foreign Affairs is Dr. Subramanyam Jaishankar.
This also means by convention R.K. Ranjan will be given the responsibility to handle only specific tasks within the two ministries’ larger policy frames. We will have to wait to find out which are these tasks left in his charge, but our guess is, one of them will pertain to certain issues related to Indo-Myanmar cooperation in border affairs, including-counter insurgency measures. Considering the nature of insurgency in the Northeast, Manipur above all, this can be a daunting and sensitive mission. However, it would be useful to recall here that another revered political leader from Manipur, Meijinlung Kamson, was given Minister of State for Home (no independent charge) during 1995-1996, while Rajesh Pilot was the Cabinet Minister Home (Internal Security), and it is significant that it was during this period that the leg work for the ceasefire with the NSCN(IM) which commenced in 1997 was done. It is reasonable to anticipate then that the Centre may be hoping for such breakthroughs with regards some of the Meitei insurgent groups still at large with R.K. Ranjan in charge.
Given also the current political churning in Myanmar and the resultant inflow of refugees, as well as India’s ambivalent stance on the matter, R.K.Ranjan may again be tasked to look for the best possible approach for India on the matter. The current reality on the Myanmar front seems to be the military Junta is set to remain in power for longer than the Junta claims would be the case, and this being so, the government dilemma would be on whether India should uncompromisingly take the moralistic stance to say no to any disruption of the democratic process in the country or else prefer the pragmatic route of establishing friendly diplomacy with the Junta without completely disowning the unfairly deposed government in exile led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, NLD. The latter option seems to be what India is leaning towards at the moment, for indeed India did abstained from voting on the June 19, 2021, UN resolution on Myanmar, calling for return of democratic rule in the country. Earlier, India also sent its representative to the Myanmar Armed Forces Day celebrated on March 27 this year. Another powerful neighbour of Myanmar, China, has always been clear on the point that it will align with whoever is in power in the country to protect its own interest. Unfortunately, the response of the Western powers, in particular the US, has been more of a reaction to China to check the Communist neighbour’s growing influence in Myanmar, rather than to Myanmar’s plight per se. Even the ASEAN has been, as anticipated, tame in its resolution on Myanmar drawn up on April 24 this year, merely calling for dialogue to end the entangle and not frame any tough measures against the Junta. Quite obviously, this agenda is not going to be a cake walk for anybody either, not the least for R.K. Ranjan.
Even as a seasoned academic before joining politics, R.K. Ranjan is unlikely to find it easy going on his education responsibility either. As a Union State Minister from the Northeast, he could likely be asked to see the possibility of upgrading the presence of Northeast history in the national school and college syllabuses. This is so because of the entangled nature of much of the region’s history. The recent controversies as well as inconclusive nature of the National Register of Citizen, NRC, and Citizenship Amendment Act, CAA, as well as the many claims of exclusive identities, lands and homelands, being some pointers of the likely roadblocks ahead. These difficulties notwithstanding, we are certain R.K. Ranjan will live up to the high expectations of the people of the region and that of his government, and we join the rest of the state in wishing him good luck.
There is another possible reason for R.K. Ranjan’s induction. The move obviously is also meant as an astute strategy to consolidate the BJP’s position in Manipur in view of the elections to the state Assembly due barely seven months from now. From the reactions in the state, even from those who claimed they have no interest in the BJP’s brand of politics, this strategy may already be proving a point and may reap electoral dividends, provided the euphoria does not completely fade away in the next seven months ahead. Similar morale boosters have been served to Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura, all BJP ruled. In Nagaland and Meghalaya, the BJP is piggyback riding on ruling regional parties, Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party, NDPP, of Neiphiu Rio, and National People’s Party, NPP, led Conrad Sangma, respectively, but no MPs from either state were included in the recent expansion. In the Mizoram Assembly in which the BJP has never been able to make a mark, and now held by Mizo National Front, MNF, under the leadership of Zoramthanga, was ignored too.
Of the five, Arunachal Pradesh’s Kiren Rijiju who was already Minster of State (Independent Charge) Youth Affairs and Sports has been upgraded to a Cabinet Minister in charge of Law and Justice. Former Assam Chief Minister, Sarbananda Sonowal, was inducted as a Cabinet Minister and will handle two Ministries, that of Ayush; and Ministry of Shipping, Ports and Waterways. This may have also been a part of the settlement for his forgoing claims to continue as Assam Chief Minister to make way for theBJP’s blue eyed boy in the state, Himanta Biswa Sarma. The three Ministers of State (without Independent Charge) are Tripura’s Pratima Bhoumik who will handle Social Justice and Empowerment; Assam’s Rameshwar Teli, Peroleum and Natural Gas; and R.K. Ranjan, Foreign Affairs and Education.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author