Policy architecture and State budget documents

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The Budget Session of the Manipur State Legislative Assembly is scheduled to begin on July 11, just one day after the Union budget is presented in the Parliament. While there can be nothing wrong with this timetable technically, one wonders if there is nobody in the State Government who thought it might be prudent for the State to keep a little bigger time gap between the two. This is with a view to leave those entrusted with preparing the State’s annual budget papers time to align the State’s own outlook to public investment with those of the Union government gainfully.

Should not such an exercise have been seen as especially relevant this year, for a new political party has come to power at the Centre, and therefore it would be a fallacy to presume there would be 100 percent continuity of the Union government’s developmental outlooks, from those of the last government. True, the State budget is not meant to be a miniaturized version of the Union budget, and the differences as well concurrences in responsibilities of State building between the Union and the States under the Indian dispensation are well specified in the 7th Schedule of the Constitution, however, there is nothing which says these functions should not be made to dovetail each other. In fact, for a small, special category State like Manipur, it should be in its interest to try and make its developmental projects complement those of the Union’s to the extent possible. At least, they should not end up standing in each other’s way.

But then who in the State government would care? As it is, there has seldom been an occasion when the thrust of Manipur’s annual budget papers rose above routine accountant’s job, merely giving an expenditure statement of the past year, and anticipating a similar middle of the road, predictable, dreary income-expenditure balance in the coming year. There have seldom been any sign that these financial statements and expenditure intents are guided by a broader and deeper plan philosophy. Considerations of attempts to harmonise the annual planning architecture of the State with those of the Union, therefore would probably be viewed as redundant, for sadly, Manipur’s politics, therefore its annual budget statement, can hardly be said to be about envisioning the future. It is not surprising then that they continue to strongly exude what in the end may be referred to as “contractor interest,” which sadly has become Manipur’s reality today.

The current dissident problem in the ruling Congress, as well as in the State BJP which now sees itself as the main opposition capable of wresting power from the Congress, although not through democratic elections, demonstrate this. It is another matter that the rebellion within the Congress party is showing signs it would end in not so grand a fashion as the rebels want the public to believe. In many ways this was quite inevitable. For the numbers clearly show, even if there were to be a major reshuffle in the government to accommodate the rebelling MLAs as ministers, there would be a further rebellion within the rebel ranks. Even if the most unlikely scenario were to come true and the Ibobi government decides to drop all the current 10 ministers, minus the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, and replace them with 10 of the rebelling MLAs, the rebel camp would not be pacified, for as reported, there are 32 of the 47 Congress Legislature Party members in the rebel camp to be pleased.

There are already signs that the rebels have softened. There has for instance been a turnaround from earlier stance, and there would be no boycott of the Assembly session, instead the rebels now say there would be further agitations after the Assembly session. As to what shape this agitation would take remains nebulous and unexplained, except for the reiteration by the rebels that “it would be in the people’s interest”. Ha!!

In their latest meeting with the chief minister on Monday, as reported, there were only 20 of the rebels present and they did not even manage to have the chief minister agree on a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, on a major reshuffle after the Assembly session. Congress spokesperson M. Okendra briefed media persons on the same day after a cabinet sitting that the CLP leaders may decide on a minor reshuffle after the Assembly session by way of a concession to the rebels.

We see no reason how it can be otherwise. The Anti Defection Law leaves the Ibobi government with only 10 ministerial berths besides the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister, and the Congress government’s dilemma at this moment is how do you please 45 MLAs (excluding the two top positions) with the 10 rewards available?

Given the structure of Manipur legislative politics, the rebellion within the ruling Congress is expected. Many of the MLAs, and indeed even former ministers, probably see this term of the Congress government as their last opportunity to be ministers. In the next election two years hence, they probably already are pessimistic the Congress would have it as easy, for the Manipur Legislative Assembly has the notorious tendency of swinging in favour of the party in power at the Centre, and for at least the next five years, and quite likely even more, Congress’ presence at the Centre is unlikely to be in any commanding position.

Moreover, in a State where elections are won not on issues but on clouts commanded by money and power, many former MLAs and even ministers, once deprived of the halo of power or the possibility of wearing them again, may actually find it difficult to retain their constituencies. The Congress rebellion therefore can be seen as a desperate, indeed paranoiac scramble to ensure themselves their footholds in their constituencies. In this sense, internal “family trouble” (in the familiar words of Congress family counsellors through the decades) we are witnessing currently, is actually more pitiable than despicable.

In anticipation of the Congress flock breaking away from the pen, the State BJP, though unsuccessful in winning even a single MLA or MP in the State, nonetheless wearing the reflected halo of their party at the Parliament, is already reportedly fishing in troubled waters. Ironically (or perhaps it should be called poetic justice), the State BJP is already knee deep into its own hot soup of power struggle.

This then is Manipur’s brand of politics. Political prowess has come to mean the ability to negotiate and survive this political jungle, and nothing at all about envisioning exciting developmental policy papers and working out their budgetary backings.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

 

 

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