Rise of Patrimonalism: Case of Manipur

It is not necessarily the candidate with the most followings among the MLAs of the majority party who will automatically become the leader of the House but the one chosen by the high command.

ByRK Nimai

Updated 14 Nov 2023, 7:49 pm

Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)
Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)

The Constitution (Ninety First Amendment) Act, 2003 which was notified on January 7, 2004 inserted Article 164 (1A) and (1B) which limits the number of Ministers including the Chief Minister to 15 per cent of the total number of members the Legislative Assembly of that State provided that the total number of Ministers, including the Chief Minister, in a State shall not be less than 12 and a member of the Legislative Assembly belonging to any political party who is disqualified from being a member of that House under paragraph 2 of the Tenth Schedule shall also be disqualified to be appointed as a Minister under clause (1) for the duration of the period commencing from the date of his disqualification till the date on which the term of his office as such member would expire or when he contests any elections to the Legislative Assembly before the expiry of such period, till the date he was declared elected whichever is earlier. This amendment brought in certain stability to the government in Manipur as earlier, very few governments last the full five years period.

Manipur, unfortunately, hardly had any stable government prior to this amendment and after attaining statehood, there were seven spells of President’s Rule with another 3 spells before attaining statehood from 1967 to 1972 twice in 1967 itself and another one in 1969. After statehood, President’s Rule was imposed in 1973 (28.3.1973-3.3.1974), 1977 (16.5.1977-28.6.1977), 1979 (14.12.1979-13.1.1980), 1981 (28.2.1981-18.6.1981), 1992 (7.1.1992-7.4.1992), 1993 31.12.1993-13.12.1994) and 2001 (2.6.2001-6.3.2002).

In the 1972 elections, the Independents were the largest group with 19 members and there was great disability so much so that the next election was held in 1974. In the 1980 election, Independents were returned in 19 ACs and were the largest group. In the 1984 election 21 Independents were returned though INC got 30 seats. In the 1990 election no party could secure a majority with the INC securing 24 seats. In the 1995 election, INC was the largest party with 22 seats followed by MPP with 18 seats while in the 2000 election, MSCP got 23 seats while INC 11. In the 2002 election INC got 20 seats followed by FPM with 13 seats. 

During this period from 1972 to 2002 there was great instability but after the 91st Constitutional Amendment, there has been stability with the government lasting the full term. During this period Manipur saw Chief Ministers in (1) Mohammed Alimuddin (23.3.1972-27.3.1973); (2) Mohammed Alimuddin (4.3.1974-9.7.1974); (3) Yangmaso Shaiza (10.7.1974-5.12.1974); (4) RK Dorendra (6.12.1974-15.5.1977) (95) Yangmaso Shaiza (29.6.1977-12.11.1979; (6) RK Dorendra (14.1.1980-26.11.1980); (7) Rishang Keishing (19.6.1981-3.3.1988); (8) RK Jaichandra (4.3.1981-22.2.1992);  (9) RK Ranbir (23.2.1990-6.1.1993); (10) RK Dorendra (8.4.1992-10.4.1993); (11) Rishang Keishing (14.12.1994-15.12.1997); (12) W Nipamacha (16.12.1997-14.2.2001); (13) Radhabinod Koijam (15.2.2001-1.6.2001) and after that it was O Ibobi. Before O Ibobi no Chief Minister could last a full term, though Rishang had a spell of more than five years by continuing as Chief Minister in two terms without break.

Before the 91st Constitutional amendment, as most of the MLAs desire to be ministers, there have been instances where the ministers including Minister of State and deputy minister numbered more than 30, the halfway mark of the 60 seats. And with other positions like speaker, deputy speaker, chairman Hill Areas Committee, chief whip besides chairman of various statutory bodies, about 40 MLAs were holding positions but despite that hankering after lucrative ministry, there is always a tussle.

During those times, if an MLA is strong enough to challenge the chief minister, he will get a ministership. Many MLAs were leaders in their own right and many do not toe the line of the chief minister and work fairly independently. Very few ministers will do chamchagiri to the CM and none will say “Under the leadership of our CM I am doing this or that”.


A department is totally the fiefdom of a strong Cabinet Minister and his MoS or deputy minister if they don’t see eye to eye complaints to the CM who will try to adjudicate but the cabinet minister tends to have the final say. The CM’s hold over powerful minister’s is tenuous and pressure can lead to breakaway and his government may fall for the breakaway group to form another government and policies and programs are as per the wish of the Minister concerned though CM was consulted. There have been instances where MoS have no work as none was assigned by the cabinet minister.

Patrimonialism is a form of governance where power flows directly from the ruler, with no distinction between private and public domain. Since 2007, certain elements of patrimonialism have crept with family members of the head of the government interfering with the administration and extracting contracts due to familial connections.

In the meantime, with a limited number of ministerships in the offer, excluding the CM there are only 11 positions and with the different communities and districts that need to be accommodated all MLAs have limited chance of being ministers. Most don't have the followings and clout to ensure his ministership and thus the common refrain “Under the leadership of our CM....” came into being and all credits are now being made to the CM. This is due to the fact that the CM can drop him anytime and he will be a pariah. Many MLAs try to connect with their electorate through various means but the only way to be a minister is through the goodwill of the chief minister.

Further with the so-called high command of a national party playing their own politics, the most popular or competent do not become the leader of the House. It is not necessarily the candidate with the most followings among the MLAs of the majority party who will automatically become the leader of the House but the one chosen by the high command.

They will send observers for the selection or election of the party leaders but they will do all sorts of machinations to ensure that the candidate selected by the high command is declared as the Legislature party leader who will become the CM. Thus the CM has to toe the line of the party high command as the moment he fails to do so he can be removed by asking him to resign.

If he has the full support of the MLAs and if he has the continued support he can challenge the high command but as he was elected or selected with lesser vote he has no option to challenge the decision of the high command. Thus he becomes the minion of the party high command and there have been cases where the party in charge of the state interferes with the administration, even attending cabinet meetings to ensure that on certain agenda no ministers oppose. If any minister opposes he will be marked and can be dropped from the ministership.


With the CM’s position dependent on the whims of the high command, he tends to grab all the powers of the other ministers and nothing goes in any department without his say so. The minister has no option but to toe the line of the CM. The CM is in a position where he lords over his council of ministers where everything is directly under his control while serving as a minion to the high command.

The effort to stop the culture of “Aya Ram, Gaya Ram” where an MLA switches support to different parties one after another leading to the insertion of the Tenth Schedule and Art 191 (2) by the Fifty second Amendment of 1985 subsequently followed by the 91st Amendment as mentioned above, literally almost stopped the Aya Ram Gaya Ram culture but it led to a situation where patrimonialism  culture crept in as the CM is untouchable if he is supported by the high command, where family members interferes with the functioning with the government departments.

Many family members of the CM became touts for appointments, contracts, etc with many becoming sub-contractors and most ministers and the officers have literally no way to stop this abhorrent culture, especially with most of them becoming subservient. This system is making the rise of autocracy where the words of the CM are becoming the law and policy pronouncements were made on the cuff in public function without any in depth analysis.

He tends to behave like a mini despot threatening people left and right and causing arrest of people though the conviction rate is nil. The message is clear that if you criticise you will be harassed leading to most avoiding any criticism. This system is creating havoc on governance and needs a correction at this juncture before it leads to constitutional anarchy and a fresh amendment of the Constitution may be required to stop all this nonsense of creating mini despot and patrimonialism

(The views expressed are personal)


First published:


manipur chief ministerpatrimonialism

RK Nimai

RK Nimai

The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur


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