Manipur elections paint a picture of BJP that the country should be wary of

Almost all political parties in our country can easily stake their claim for a patent on double-speak. This phenomenon has been slowly corroding the foundation of our democratic system for a while now. However, it becomes disturbingly pronounced during the time of elections. And unfortunately we are in the midst of one in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Assembly election results in five states.

The dichotomy between the words and the actions of the political class has stopped baffling conscious citizens of the country long back. But it has never stopped enraging them. Let us take the example of the results of the recent state elections. Clarity of the verdict in respect of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab has severely restricted the scope of political maneuvering. At the same time, fractured mandates in Goa and Manipur have created a fertile ground for some ‘smart’ politicians to tweak the verdict in their favour overturning certain ethos on which any democratic republic has long been thought to be premised.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the BJP headquarters on 12 March adequately amplifies that dichotomy. There is no denying the fact that Modi is a powerful and riveting speaker. He can connect to a vast majority of the electorate quite effortlessly by adroitly employing a new vocabulary containing both earthy touch and rhetorical flourish. He deserves credit for changing the very grammar of electioneering in the country especially from the campaigning stage of the 2014 parliamentary election.

But one’s strength may not always be able cover all the warts. And the warts are not few, to say the least. It is pretty difficult to find fault with prime minister’s victory speech on Sunday as he did not veer away from the path of political correctness. His emphasis on the need to work harder, accepting victory in humility and reiterating that the newly elected state governments would be for all the citizens (and not for the people who voted them to power) are like music to the ears, provided these words are analyzed on a stand-alone basis. But once an objective analysis is attempted in the light of a politically important event, the music turns slightly jarring.

Newly sworn-in Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh with Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal at the swearing-in ceremony in Imphal. PTI

Newly sworn-in Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh with Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal at the swearing-in ceremony in Imphal. PTI

The rapidly emerging political scenario in the state of Manipur after the declaration of the election results was a pointer to that direction. I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the exhortation of the prime minister for a corruption free India with what might have possibly happened in Manipur during the course of the recent election. The moot question is — in their over enthusiasm for a Congress-free India, has BJP added further layers to the nasty game of horse-trading spearheaded by Congress not very long ago? If the answer to the above question is positive, should we be surprised at the fact that the iron lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila, got only ninety votes in her maiden electoral fight against the political heavyweight Okram Ibobi Singh of Congress?

During her 16 year long relentless struggle demanding the withdrawal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the ‘disturbed’ Manipur, she had thousands of supporters, many of whom were very keen to be seen as champions of human rights in those turbulent days. It is ironical that some of her earlier ‘cheerleaders’ are now alleged to be involved in certain undesirable political activities which are totally inimical to the growth of proper democratic ethos.

On 15 March, Nongthombam Biren Singh took oath as the 24th chief minister of Manipur. It is interesting to note that 56-year-old N Biren Singh (as he is popularly known) is a national football player-turned-journalist-turned-politician and more importantly, he was a close confidante of the earlier chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh. He left Congress and joined BJP only in October 2016. Shyamkumar who defected to BJP only a few days back after winning the election on a Congress ticket was also inducted as a cabinet minister throwing all norms of propriety to the wind. Keenly observing the development, many people have a question on their lips — is this the right way of purging the country of the Congress? By changing the political loyalty for their own vested interests, can a person change the age-old mindset associated with the party? But unfortunately, very few powerful politicians seem to have time and inclination to answer this kind of uncomfortable question.

In the recent Manipur election, despite facing huge anti-incumbency sentiments, Congress got 28 seats missing the magic number by 3 in the 60 member assembly. Congress has been in power in the state since 2002. However, their vote share declined from 42.4 percent to 35.1 percent in the current election. On the other hand, BJP got just 21 seats, but their vote share saw a dramatic jump from 2 percent in the 2012 election to 36.3 percent in this election. The fact that BJP trumped Congress on vote share percentage was very cleverly underlined by the party to bestow legitimacy to their efforts in forming the government. This in turn has underlined the duplicity of the party in respect of adopting a moral high ground by the top leaders and doing just the contrary by its second rung leaders solely dictated by political expediency.

The support extended to BJP by National People’s Party (NPP) and Naga People’s Front (NFP) who got 4 seats each is not surprising as both the parties are part of NEDA (North East Democratic Alliance). NEDA was formed by BJP immediately after the Assam assembly election of 2016 with the powerful Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma as its convenor. The objective of NEDA is to ensure a Congress free North East. Its first success was Arunachal Pradesh.

Sarma who masterminded and micro-managed the political events in Manipur has undoubtedly earned many brownie points in the eyes of the BJP central leadership. But with Congress MLA Shyamkumar’s post-election defection to BJP and the news that another half a dozen Congress MLAs may switch loyalty amplifies the crisis plaguing our democracy. These leaders brusquely talk about their desire to go to polls again if their earlier elections are rendered null and void under anti-defection law. But they forget about the huge cost it imposes on common taxpayers.

There is a need for building up an academic debate to decide about the inclusion of the provision of ‘Right to Recall’ in our statue books in order to make the republic more robust. At least, the recent political events in the small state of Manipur clearly highlight the need for that debate on an urgent basis. But whether India would be receptive to this idea or not is a matter which would be watched with abiding interest by many. But before that happens, it can be safely concluded that what has recently been magnified by the Manipur election is certainly not very magnificent for the nation.

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Updated Date: Mar 16, 2017 16:33:11 IST

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