Congress plus a cow

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The BJP has released its first list of 31 candidates today. The list was more or less known a week earlier when the party leaked it as a tentative list to the media and today’s list was virtually the same. As was expected, the BJP is building a team largely out of defectors from other parties, in particular from the ruling Congress as this first list indicates. No points for guessing that the party will be angling for more defectors, again from the ruling Congress, which undoubtedly is one of the biggest reasons for declaring only half its total candidatures in the 60 member house today. As rumours have it, there are even some cabinet ministers from the Okram Ibobi government waiting in line, and this too was expected. In the last three terms of the Congress government under chief minister Ibobi, except for a few very senior ministers, the practice has been to award ministerial berths by rotation after each of the terms. This time too, there is unlikely to be much break from this tradition and hence it is only to be expected that many minor ministers in the current Ibobi cabinet would like to look for greener pastures elsewhere, and if the BJP offers them this pasture, they would probably jump into its fold. For the ruling party however, this award of ministerial berths by rotation has been a successful formula to keep the Congress flock together so why would the Congress leadership want to change it now. If it did so and indicated it would retain the same ministers in its next cabinet (if at all), second rung leaders of the party now waiting to replace those who have had a taste of cabinet berth, would get rebellious and probably defect. In this sense, this tradition has been more a compulsions of political survival rather than consideration of good governance. Let us elaborate a little more.

We all know the Anti-Defection Law has put a ceiling of 15 per cent of the strength of the House on the size of the council of ministers in the Assembly as well as the Parliament. For small states like Manipur, this has been relaxed a little to bring up the absolute number to 12, including the chief minister. This means, any chief minister will have just 11 ministers to induct in his cabinet. This is quite unlike the pre-Anti Defection Law days when practically everybody in the ruling party was in the council of ministers, either as cabinet minister or else state ministers. In a place like Manipur where politics is no longer much of a public service, but reduced to an instrument of personal aggrandisement, every politician’s ambition is to have a lever of state power and a key to the state exchequer. Under the circumstance, 12 ministerial berths are too few for any ruling party to keep every ambitious MLA happy and therefore be free of dissidents and defectors. Once upon a time, before the 10th Schedule (which contains the Anti-Defection Law) introduced by the 52nd amendment of the Constitution in 1985 was conceived of, MLAs unhappy with his or her parent party could defect to another party of his choice without any problem. Those were the days when governments were never steady and were perpetually held at ransom by dissidents. Today MLAs cannot switch sides easily though legislative parties can merge with each other if a majority of the MLAs consent to do so (as it happened in Arunachal Pradesh). Politicians can however switch sides without attracting the 10th Schedule if they do so before the elections (as it happened in Assam and is happening in Manipur now).

BJP loyalist for long, and now a dissenter, former journalist and author of repute, Arun Shourie’s caricature of the BJP probably is a perfect picture of the BJP Manipur. He described the BJP as “Congress plus a cow”. Indeed, at this moment, with flocks of ex-Congress politicians filling up its ranks and files, the BJP and the Congress are beginning to increasingly look like each other. If there were alternatives to these two parties, not only credible but also capable of forming a stable government on their own, probably a lot of people would have opt for them. Perhaps a third front of smaller parties with commitment to broad-based, liberal ideology and to the people they pledge to serve, is the need of the hour. A drubbing by such a federation would have been good lesson for those in these bigger parties who have patronised and institutionalised ideology-devoid, self-serving politics, thereby ruining not only politics, but also people’s faith in politics.

Source: Imphal Free Press

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