When a Manipur Legislative Assembly bulletin on September 2 announced the merger of five Janata Dal-United MLAs into the BJP, many were taken by surprise but not by the lack of moral standards of our elected representatives who do not bat an eyelid while jumping ship in pursuit of power. In fact, changing parties has become an acceptable form of politics in the state as a major chunk of the public wants their representatives either to be a minister or in the ruling party or alliance in the hope that they may at least get some bread-crumbs or benefits filtered down the pipeline.
Politics had taken a beating after Manipur attained statehood in 1972 with politicians and representatives shifting loyalties and changing colours at the drop of a hat. The days of political ideologies and party loyalty have gone forever.
Even the cadre based Communist Party of India (CPI) became a victim of the emerging power politics as it began losing its elected representatives to the Congress party. Like the ‘Aya Ram Gaya Ram’ culture in North India, Manipur also became a playground of different political parties in power at New Delhi which ultimately led to the Anti-Defection law. But, politicians always managed to find loopholes and side step the provisions so as not to attract disqualification under the newly introduced law which ultimately led to further amendments.
Interestingly, Manipur became a prime example of anyone choosing to study the anti-defection law and its ramifications. Under the law, the institution of Speaker of the House became so powerful that a Speaker W Nipamacha Singh went on to become the Chief Minister in Manipur. In an earlier case, a standoff between the judiciary and legislature occurred and the then Manipur Speaker Dr H Borbabu was summoned by the Supreme Court for defying its orders.
Suffice it to say, Manipur is no stranger to defections and disqualifications while it is becoming a culture of sorts among the politicians. In recent times, Chief Minister N Biren Singh seems to have perfected the art of defection with his background as a trouble-shooter for his mentor Okram Ibobi Singh and has become the master tactician.
We have seen in N Biren Singh’s last term how he was able to steer his government for a full term despite the push and pulls of coalition politics and the threat of disqualification perpetually hanging over the necks of supporters and defectors like a Damocles sword.
Even though Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats in the 2017 state assembly elections just 3 short of a simple majority, BJP with only 21 seats wrested power by cobbling together a loose coalition of sorts.
As the coalition itself was fragile due to internal rumblings and pressure from allies, N Biren Singh had to rely on the support from his former associates in the Congress. The situation was such that the ‘silent’ supporters of the BJP led government were neither in Congress nor in BJP, but rather in the twilight zone.
Except for frequent attendances at BJP functions or donning saffron colours, the silent supporters of BJP sat in the opposition bench and never did openly leave the Congress party which would have attracted disqualification under the 10th of the Indian Constitution. This time around, BJP got a comfortable majority with 32 seats in the 60-member state legislative assembly while the main challenger Congress party ended up with a dismal performance of 5 seats. The remaining 23 seats were divided among NPF, NPP, Janata Dal-United, the newly formed Kuki Peoples’ Alliance and a few independents. BJP chose to form the government along with former ally NPF while the others pledged their support in the form of letters to the Governor.
When state JD-U chief Ksh Biren suddenly announced that the party was contemplating on whether to pull out of the coalition government led by N Biren Singh or not, it was of no consequence as BJP had a comfortable majority of its own besides NPF. Then, why did it make a move and poach the five JD-U MLAs?
Is it purely an act of vengeance on Bihar CM Nitish Kumar for pulling out of NDA or is the BJP government here feeling insecure because of the election petitions against some of its leaders?