The Konthoujam bye-election results are out, and for the first time since the ascendance of the Congress under chief minister, Okram Ibobi, to the seats of the state’s power corridors nearly 10 years ago, the party’s apparent invincibility has been broken quite convincingly. In the light of this, the significance of the news of the bye-election result today was more about the defeat of the Congress than the victory of the new entrant into state politics, and indeed deserving giant killer, the Trinamool Congress. While it is true election results in Manipur are not determined purely by politics or political ideology of the parties in the contest, it cannot be ignored that this somewhat a mid-term verdict of the electorate on the popularity of the party in power. Nobody would have thought today’s was possible two months ago. Now it is a reality beyond the pale. The ruling party needs to rethink its ways, and for the opposition parties, this is also an indicator that if they manage to remain united, this is the best time for them to break the Congress fortress built solidly during the party’s extended period in power. This thought is extremely relevant for both, considering the election to the state Assembly are just one year away. But before anything further is said on the issue, our congratulations go out to the winner, K Sarat of the Trinamool Congress.
Although the elections are due technically in February 2012, this year is virtually an election year. There is just one year left for the ruling party to salvage the situation, or for the opposition combined to think of consolidating its gains. It remains to be seen which one takes the situation seriously enough to take the best advantage of it. But there is also another more serious thought to be considered. So far the Okram Ibobi government has been in a strong position not to be swayed by the sentiments in the streets. This was witnessed in the measured concessions it made to the demand for the implementation of the 6th Pay Commission recommendations for state government employees. It was seen in the way his government pushed through the controversial Autonomous District Council elections. It is again being seen in the way the government is taking on the many strikes the state witnesses on almost a daily basis, including the ongoing one by the College Teachers’ Association, COTA. What many would be eager to find out at this moment would be, would the Ibobi government have the courage to carry on with its resolute postures on issues of importance to the state, or would the Konthoujam election defeat begin to eat into his government’s confidence, making it want to lean towards more populist policies and measures. In other words, would the government continue to see only what it thinks are in the interest of the state, or would it shift focus from state interest to election interest. We hope nothing very serious in matters of governance ends up compromised. Any realist would give allowance for a bit of populist measures of any government in an election years. This happens everywhere, including in the most advanced democracies in the world, but the state needs to be wary about this populism not amounting to any serious sell-out of state’s interest.
The urge of the government to resort to such means will also depend on how the opposition conducts its campaign. It can also deliberately or otherwise push the government to do exactly what every right thinking citizen fears – enter into unrestrained populist programmes. Our appeal then is for both the sides of the political divide not to cross the line of political decency and thereby avoid pushing each other to the wall where the cornered are left to resort to desperate means. Let the campaigns be held in true earnest, but without allowing it to degenerate into total insanity. Let both the sides continue to consider the overall interest of the state as primary and within this parameters, conduct their campaigns. But in the final analysis, the responsibility of not compromising the overall health of the state in view of the upcoming state Assembly election, would rest on the ruling party’s shoulder, after all the levers of power are in its hands, thus it can misuse it more than anybody else.