The Congress government led by Okram Ibobi suffered a jolt today, but perhaps it is not as bad as many have made it out to be. It may also not be any indication of a BJP wave either, as many more are most enthusiastic to call it. One or two basic facts will explain this. The two seats, that of Thongju and Thangmeiband, were not held by the Congress even before they became vacant on account of the disqualification of their representatives under the Anti-Defection Law, therefore in terms of numbers, the Congress lost nothing. On the other hand, in terms of morale, they lost miserably because it was not any other party but its arch rivals, the BJP, which won. The seats went to the Trinamool Congress in the last Assembly election, and though no longer with the party, it was again the same MLAs who won the seats today. The two victorious MLAs, Thongam Biswajit Singh and Khumukcham Joykishan retained the Thongju and Thangmeiband respectively. The fact is, the two had, after disqualification as Trinamool MLAs joined the BJP and were re-elected on the party’s ticket. Again, in Manipur’s politics, it is well known that personality and individual resources of candidates matter as much as, if not more than, party clouts, therefore, today’s electoral result may well also be interpreted as the victory of the candidates rather than the BJP. They won three years ago as Trinamool candidates and they have won as BJP candidates this time again. It remains to be seen if they can hold on to their respective constituencies a year and a half later in 2017, when the term of the current Assembly expires.
This is to say, to attribute today’s victories to any major change in voters’ party preference could prove to be illusory. All the same it is perfectly justified for the BJP to feel elated that it has at last opened accounts in the state Assembly, and for the Congress to be worried that despite being the party in power, it could not garner these two seats in the contest by secret ballot. What could have worked in favour of the BJP this time is that generally in small and cash strapped Northeast states like Manipur, the voters feel safer to be on the side of the party in power at the Centre. BJP being the party in power at the Centre, voters may have decided voting the party in Manipur may be an option for future security, but this to some extent only. For it is everybody’s knowledge that votes in Manipur are also actually bought with hard cash, and candidates end up spending stupendous amounts at every election. This perhaps explains how the profile of political leadership in the state has transformed so radically in the past three or four decades. Two generation ago, politics was dominated by former school teachers who earned the respect of the societies by their dedicated service to community. Most of the political leaders of the 1970s and 1980s hence were actually referred to as Oja (teacher)for this reason. Retired bureaucrats then began walking into the political arena, having seen the administration from the inside, and probably having realised to their utter dismay that it was the politicians not the bureaucrats who held the actual reins of state power. Most ended up toothless in their comfortable retirement postings.
Before long, as election became progressively expensive because of the culture of vote purchases, the profile changed once again, bringing government contractors with their loads of filthy money, earned through organised looting of public exchequer, in collaboration with those in power. Indeed, it would be difficult today to find a legislator with no contractor background. This money culture must end for Manipur to begin spawning a fresh crop of political leadership, more imaginative and committed to public welfare. Only a change in public attitude to elections, where each vote comes to be considered as priceless, therefore not purchasable, would be able to bring about this change. In the meantime, our congratulations go out to today’s winners, however so the victory is interpreted by our vocal experts on TV as well as newspapers. We also pray that both the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP will strive to bring back the commitment of the politics of the days of the Ojas back to Manipur once again.