Ibobi`s Nine Lives

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If there is any leader in Manipur with the proverbial nine lives, it must have to be chief minister, Okram Ibobi. He has survived the most dangerous challenges to his leadership from within as well as without, and each time he walked out with aplomb by a combination of grit and luck. Often it is the later which saved him and continues to save him till this day. Almost a decade ago, it was the phenomenon of political defection which had come to reduce politics to a horse trading bazaar, making it practically impossible for any government in Manipur and indeed most of the other small states in the Northeast and the rest of India, to stand on firm ground much less take tough decisions. Few governments were ever able to complete a full term. Constitutional crises resulting out of floor crossing far too often laced the tenures of popular governments with frequent spells of Presidents Rules. Chief Ministers were also thus never ever sure who would pull the carpet from under his feet and therefore were preoccupied with keeping their MLAs amused… Ibobi had his share of scares, and on many occasions, his government was on the verge of falling, but each time, fortuity smiled on him and he emerged winner. The first time was a major structural change in Indian politics which gave him a leash of life when it had seemed he had no chance of survival. That year, he had even delayed inordinately the holding the winter session of the Assembly because he got the wind that a no trust motion would be awaiting him there, and as luck would have it, he was able to hold out till the Anti-Defection Bill was passed to become an Act of the Parliament putting severe restrictions on floor crossing by legislators in both the state Assemblies and the Union Parliament. Ibobi not only heaved a sigh of relief but his government also was given a foundation which is arguably firmer than any other the state has seen in the past. In all likelihood, he may be slated to become the longest serving chief minister of the state.

Ibobi’s luck still holds strong today it seems. In the wake of the prolonged blockade of the state on the issue of the creation of a full-fledged SADAR Hills district, Opposition parties, in particular the BJP has been baying for the blood of the chief minister and his SPF government, demanding the imposition of Presidents Rule to bring back some semblance of order in the state as the government at this moment seems totally clueless as to how to tackle the problem. The deteriorating law and order situation in the state being such, if the pressure from the Opposition parties continued unrelenting, chances probably would have been the Central government would be compelled to listen, for indeed there can be absolutely no denying much of the charges are what are being witnessed by everybody in the state. It is again Ibobi’s luck that the Central government too is in a major crisis at this moment following very serious charges that the Union home minister P Chidambaram could have prevented the 2G scandal but he deliberately did not. The implication is, he and perhaps more important heads of his party, had a vested interest in what can veritably be described as the most atrocious and expensive scandal the country has ever seen in its 64 years as an independent nation. As if this is not enough, there are indications of major differences between senior colleagues of the ruling Congress shaking and threatening the government as it never has been in its current term till date. In other words, Manipur is unlikely to be in the heads of the Central leaders as they too are having to duck and dodge salvos fired by their opponents, again the most major being the BJP, and therefore questions of a spell of President’s Rule in the state remains remote.

But if Ibobi is lucky on this count again, can we say the same about the state. At this moment, what is most urgently called for is a firm decision of the government and firm implementation of this decision. But even before the government is able to come out with and unambiguous policy on the demand for SADAR Hills district, what is more desperately necessary is for it to ensure that the blockade is lifted or broken if need be. It is alright for the chief minster to say from the comfort of his office that he will not be arm-twisted by coercive agitations but if he does not do anything after that, the burden of his decision would not be borne by him but the people. And nobody but his most incorrigible sycophants would tell him all is hunky dory with the people. A good section, especially wage earners are in abject misery and at the point of starvation. Instead it would do well for the government to be reminded that hunger leads to anger.

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