Banana republic tales

87

With elections to the Manipur Legislative Assembly barely five months away, the ruling Congress is in a siege. Three of its senior legislators have abandoned their parent ship forsaking their Assembly their seats as well in the dying months of its current terms. One of the three, and the senior most among them, Yumkham Erabot, has already joined the rival BJP and if everything goes as anticipated, the remaining two, Nongthombam Biren and Francis Ngajokpa, will also be following suit. Given Manipur’s brand of politics, it is anybody’s guess if more senior Congress legislators will desert camp and flock to what at this moment is seen as the greener pasture of the BJP camp. The immediate reasons cited by the three are however similar only to the extent that they all claim they were compelled to do what they have done by their voters. This however, in all likelihood, is not the only reason, and each would probably have their individual compulsions. In the case of Erabot, his rivalry with the chief minister, Okram Ibobi, is well known, and he had once even projected himself as competitor to the state’s top job. He was ultimately dropped from the Ibobi cabinet and he must have realized that he would have no future in the Congress so long as Ibobi remains in charge. Biren in an interview today said he wants to be in a position to serve the people better and there was no scope for this in a Congress government. He was a minister in the last Congress government but not in the current one, and a rebellion he was part of caused Ibobi to reshuffle his cabinet mid-term, however Ibobi chose not to include him in his new ministry. Francis was a minister till this last reshuffle when he was dropped. One of the parameters for dropping ministers in this reshuffle was the performance of the Congress in grassroots elections in the respective constituencies of the ministers, and it may be recalled, Francis’s Tadubi constituency returned no Congress in the last ADC election. At least in his case, there may be considerable truth in the claim that his voters do not want the Congress anymore.

There is nothing legally or morally wrong with politicians switching parties, unseemly as they appear. This provision for political divorce, when it is determined by ideological visions, in fact is an effective democratic deterrent on unwarranted authoritarian tendencies of leaders. Every individual remains free in the ultimate analysis and the cabinet thus is forced only to be an enlightened partnership in which all minsters are equal and the chief minister is only the first among equals. However, as the world just witnessed in Arunachal Pradesh, in Manipur too such defections are seldom on ideological grounds but avarice. In the styles and manner of a banana republic, politicians defect only so that they are in positions of personal gains. The current floor crossings would have looked all well and part of progressive and acceptable ideology based politics had it happened three years ago when the Congress was still in power at the Centre, and the Assembly still had enough life to live. Even if these defections came late in the day, it would still have had a semblance of an ideological struggle had the defectors not rushed to the camp which is projected by many to come to power in the next Assembly. Let the bluff be called. As in any banana republic, it is still power and the plunders that come with it which lures politics in Manipur.

Having accepted this, let us try a little crystal gazing into what lies ahead. Given the fact that an opinion poll done by India Today and Axis, gave the BJP a favourable verdict to form the next government in the state, the Congress may not find it easy to keep its flock from further straying. In fact, India Today and Axis may have committed an electoral offence by their report for attempting to influence public mood, wittingly or otherwise, ahead of an election. It must however be kept in mind that it has been proven time and again that not just pre-poll opinion surveys but even exit polls, where sample voters are asked who they voted for immediately as they exit from the polling stations, have proven more often than not farcically wrong. The way NDTV ended up looking from the wrong end of the telescope in their exit poll in the last Bihar election is evidence enough. In Manipur today, the BJP is upbeat and understandably too for in small dependent states, the general feeling is it is safer to be on the same side as the party in power at the Centre, and it is the BJP which is in this position now. The Congress camp must be worried, but their leaders are still confident the departure of some MLAs would not make a dent on the party’s electoral fortune. Manipur’s 2017 election promises to be an interesting political battlefield drama to watch indeed.

Source: Imphal Free Press

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