The only alternative

Over the past few days, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh had been shuttling between Imphal and New Delhi after being summoned by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi following dissidents’ demands for reshuffling the ministry and “one-man one-post” formula and also accusation of “non-performance”. 

In the 2012 assembly poll, the Congress won 47 of the 60 seats — a record of sorts — but it also posed a serious problem for Ibobi in the sense he was unable to keep the flock in good humour by giving each and everyone a ministerial berth as he had to strictly adhere to  the Tenth Schedule which is against the formation of a jumbo ministry. 

With just 10 months left for the next assembly elections in Manipur, the Congress  high command has to act fast to bring about some semblance of cohesion in its state unit. Home minister Gaikhangam appears to be the dissidents’ main target.  Apart from being deputy chief minister, he is also president of the state Congress committee (as this is written, TN Haokip has been appointed the new Pradesh committee chief). They hold him responsible for Congress candidates’ humiliating defeat in last November’s by-elections to the Thongju assembly constituency and Thangmeiband AC. They lost to the  BJP with huge margins. 

Ibobi has often complained that the Centre has never consuted him vis-a-vis the  Naga peace talks. But the dissidents have  alleged that his right-hand man, Gaikhangam, has supported the NSCN(IM)’s demand for a greater Nagaland which, in other words, means the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.

Surprisingly, the state BJP  president Th Chaoba has reportedly told the local media that most Congress dissidents were keen to join him.

The Centre is keeping a close watch on developments in the hills, particularly in Churachandpur where, in September last year, nine persons lost their lives in clashes after the state assembly in a special session on 30 August passed three controversial bills without a debate. Significantly, these bodies are still lying in morgues. The state BJP is maintainng a studied silence over the incident. 

There have not been any major dissidents or desertion from/by Congress members in the past.

The Congress has been in power for three consecutive terms and there had been no reports of rumblings in all these  years. The assembly has 20 members from the hills — 16 of them from the Congress and four from the Naga People’s Front. The latter are facing a “social boycott” by the public for not being able to speak against the bills. In fact, the Joint Action Committee against the Bills has asked all the 20 tribal MLAs to “step down”. But none has obliged so far. On 10 March, the JAC said in a statement that these MLAS would be barred from setting foot on tribal territories and would not be invited to public functions/ceremonies, particularly the six MLAs from Churachandpur district. Now Ibobi has four tribal ministers in his ministry. 

The All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur had also appealed, on 30 August 2015, to all tribal MLAs to abstain from the special session of the state assembly at the time of passing the three bills, which, they said, went against the tribals.

The only alternative to silence the dissidents before the assembly election is to reshuffle the cabinet. But this is unlikely to go in favour of the Congress, as  this will come a little too late.The dissidents’ move, too, is questionable, as it comes almost at the fag end of their tenure and with seemingly vague allegations. One thing is clear, the dissidents were not rebelling against Ibobi rule but are basically demanding “ministerial berths”. 

Their move is unlikely to bring in any major reshuffle though latest reports speak of the high command having given Ibobi permission to this effect. In case of any change in the ministry, it would not affect the next election either — in terms of giving the Congress a major boost. In any case, with or without dissidents, the Congress is losing popularity in Manipur, particularly in the tribal hill areas.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Delhi.


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