The day following the counting of votes and with the BJP garnering 32 seats, the state cabinet recommended the dissolution of the 11th Legislative Assembly as also the resignation of the Council of Ministers which was accepted by the Governor and necessary orders issued. The chief minister was, however, asked to continue as caretaker CM. This led many to believe that the new government will be sworn in quickly; but this was belied and there was delay in the swearing-in which happened only on March 21. The inability to identify the leader of the BJP for 10 days defeats the whole purpose of dissolution of the former House and it could have completed its full term.
The Central observers for identifying the leader of the Legislature party of the BJP in Manipur reached Imphal on March 20 and after a meeting of the BJP Legislature party, the leader was announced. Earlier three leaders, including the state party president had visited New Delhi but from the press briefings all three indicated nothing about the identification of the leader was discussed and it was a celebratory visit on the victory of the party. This itself makes one wonder why all the tamasha for the visit using a chartered flight.
In the meantime, there were rumours that two leaders had earlier visited Guwahati quietly and if correct, whether the visit relates to the selection of the leader as the timing makes one feel that it is so. Further on the 19th, three main contenders of the leadership were summoned to Delhi which makes it more complex as the Central leadership still seem undecided.
Before analysing the political aspect, it may be appropriate to discuss the administrative implications the delay is likely to cause. After the swearing in of the ministers the next step is election of Speaker and summoning the House. Under clause (1) of Article 174, the Governor shall summon the House which was reiterated in Rule 4(1) of the Rules of Procedures and Conduct of Business of the Manipur Legislative Assembly. Under normal circumstances, 15 days clear notice was to be given under Rule 4(2) but this notice period can be curtailed.
The House has been summoned on March 24 which is preceded by the election of Speaker. Since it will be the first session of the 12th Legislative Assembly of Manipur, the session shall start with the Address by the Governor; followed by the Motion of Thanks. The priorities will be the passing of the two Appropriation Bills for the Supplementary Grants for 2021-22 and the Vote on Accounts for 2022-23. This may be carried out on 28th as Saturday is not a sitting day.
The Manipur Appropriation Bill relating to Supplementary Grants for 2021-22 passed by the House has to be accorded assent by the Governor before incurring expenditure against the supplementary provisions. Thus there will be hardly three or four working days left to complete the whole process, including preparation of bills, passing it and withdrawing the amount. Thus for all practical purpose, the chances of expenditure against supplementary grants, which were not earlier authorised and spent is limited. Thus the delay in the formation of the ministry will have an impact on the functioning of the government as the closing of the financial year is knocking at the door.
Now coming to the political situation, we have been flooded with the statement that BJP is a disciplined party and all will abide by the decision of the Central leadership. But is this process democratic? The leader should have been the MLA who commands maximum support from the party MLAs. When a local news channel telecast that there are two groups within the party, notice were served by the party and an MLA to the channel why legal action should not be taken for propagating fake news. This is not surprising as intimidation is the weapon used by this party in the previous government. The delay in the identification of the leader points to conflict within the party much to the disadvantage of the state. A delay of 10 days is not justifiable as this is March, the last month of the financial year. Thus the only inference in the delay to identify the leader of the Legislative party is due to claims and counter claims. If there is no tussle and the issue is clear there is no reason for the inordinate delay. The problem is also seen in Goa and Uttarakhand where in the latter the former CM who lost the election was made the leader of the Legislative party!
As usual the social media was agog of who will be sworn-in as ministers. Most of the lists circulated are fake ones prepared by vested interested people or hell bent on creating problems but who do not know how portfolios were allocated. This writer will refrain from indicating the procedure as it will make the fake news churner smart and subsequent fake news may be difficult to discern.
While watching the live telecast of the swearing-in none of those who were sworn in seems to be smiling with grim faces thereby indicating that none is overtly happy and that undercurrents are still going on. Six ministers including a lady MLA and two from the hills one from the Kuki-Mizo-Chin group and one from the Naga group have been sworn-in. Thus six vacancies remains; of which one has to go to a Kuki-Mizo-Chin group from Churachandpur or Chandel and one from the Naga from either Senapati or Ukhrul. The latter is critical as it was the NPF ministers in the previous ministry who took the lead in negotiating with any agitating group threatening to block the Asian Highway either bringing an understanding, and even if not, a conducive atmosphere for further negotiation. Without NPF, it will be difficult for the government to ensure bandh free NH.
For the remaining four positions, the number of aspirants is many, some of who can be made to satisfy with the position of Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chairman HAC, etc. But many will be dissatisfied especially those who are firm supporters of the CM and had high hope of being a minister. Once the expansion occurs, it may lead to a fresh round of factionalism. The choice for the position of Speaker is going to be critical and there is bound to be serious tussle as this may decide the future fate of the Government.
While on the swearing-in, one is bemused to see the sitting arrangement which made one to wonder whether this is an official function or a party function. Making the Rajya Sabha MP sit in the second row and people who are not included in the Table of Precedence sitting on the front row? Either the party bigwigs are innocent of the table of precedence or shameless to usher themselves in the front seats alongside the CMs of neighbouring states. In future, it is better not to hold such programs in the Raj Bhavan as such arrangement hurts the dignity of this august institution but in the City Convention Centre or elsewhere with the State Government doing the arrangement for seating. On one side the official dignitaries can be seated as per the protocol while on the other side the party bigwigs can preen themselves.
The only opposition in the House is likely to be the Congress with its five members as all other may ultimately support the government. This is because quite a few are members of NDA or NEDA and everyone wants a piece of the cake. However, those parties who are not in the ministry even if they support the government can and will question the government in the House on specific issues, which is just what the state need.
After the election, many defeated candidates are preparing to file election cases but getting certified copies of past affidavits is a hurdle as many ROs is reluctant to issue though for the current ones, they are ready. This hinders the filing of election cases. RTI is not an option as in getting the certified copy the time limit for filing election petition will be over. The affidavits are also in public domain but to file an election petition, certified copy is required. Whether the stand of the ROs is due to their lack of understanding or on the directions of higher ups are unknown.
Governance is a continuing process and one is answerable for the acts done by his/her predecessor also, though he/she shall not be personally liable for past misdeeds. Issuing certified copies of past affidavits is the sole responsibility of the officer presently holding the post and any effort to avoid indicates that he/she does not know his/her duties and responsibilities which they are shirking! He/she has only to ensure that the certified copies are exactly similar to the original and nothing more or nothing less.
(The views expressed is personal)