Pros and cons of new BJP-led government in Manipur: A look at an unhealthy marriage

Raymond Ronamai
Manipur CM N Biren Singh proves majority in floor test

A new chapter has begun in Manipur with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies ending 15 years of Congress rule in the state. It is a welcome change, and if the result of this year's elections – from nil in the last elections to 21 this time – is any indication, one can safely say that people of the state wanted a non-Congress government.

Congress under the leadership of former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh played communal cards again this time too, making "Manipur integrity" propaganda as the party's trump card to claim power besides the creation of seven new districts in the state. However, it failed to fool the people again unlike five years ago when it earned the sympathy of the Meiteis, the majority community in the state, by successfully blocking NSCN (I-M) general secretary, Thuingaleng Muivah from visiting his native village in 2010.

[Also read: How BJP is breathing fresh air into lifeless Manipur politics]

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Congress won 28 seats against 42 in the previous elections, but was short of three MLAs to reach the magic number of 31 to form the government. It won most seats by a single party, but failed to gainer support from smaller parties. So, BJP that won 21 seats made good use of the situation and aligned with National People's Party (4 MLAs), Naga People's Front (4 MLAs), Lok Janshakti Party (1 MLA), Trinamool Congress (1 MLA) and an Independent MLA.

BJP leader Nongthombam Biren Singh was sworn in as the chief minister of Manipur on Wednesday. Many won't care who takes the top position as long as it is not Ibobi, who had earned many foes and some genuine followers over his 15 years as CM of the state. Moreover, it is obvious that people of the state were tired of Congress government and wanted to try their luck with other parties, and that party happened to be the BJP.

It's all roses at the moment, but the BJP-led government's road ahead can have lots of thorns. The coalition government looks like an unhealthy marriage as BJP's ideology and that of some of its allies is like fire and water.

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For instance, the BJP state unit's election manifesto stressed on "Manipur territorial integrity" whereas NPF stands for "One Naga," fighting for merger of Manipur and Nagaland Nagas. They are like North Pole and South Pole.

Interestingly, new CM N Biren Singh was one of the committee members that drafted the controversial bills -- Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015; Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th amendment) Bill, 2015; and Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill, 2015. State security killed nine people who were protesting against the bills, and the mortal remains of the victims are not buried to this day. The incident also led to the resignation of four NPF MLAs.

Singh was also a member of the Congress party and a close associate of former CM Ibobi till he resigned from the party and joined BJP in October last year. He has no love for Manipur Nagas' apex body United Naga Council (UNC) that has been supporting NPF since its entry into the state from Nagaland.

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Lots of things happened in little time towards the end of last year with UNC calling for an indefinite economic blockade in the Naga-inhabited areas to protest against Ibobi's plan to create two new districts without consulting the Nagas who have special land rights granted by the constitution of India.

Aggravating the situation even more, the state police arrested UNC President Gaidon Kamei and Publicity Secretary Sankhui Stephen, holding them responsible for the economic blockade in the state that has caused lots of inconveniences to the public. As if that's not enough, the government stunt everyone by creating not two but seven new districts.

Now, the BJP-led government has to get all the things right to last a full term of five years. NPF is likely to demand the release of UNC leaders unconditionally and roll back the controversial bills passed by the Congress government, and so too the seven new districts.

If NPF sticks to its demands, BJP has to give in and receive a huge backlash from the Meitei community or let the party go and give up power. The fact is BJP will end up a victim either way.

The BJP also doesn't share good relation with Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee had recently hit the streets protesting the government's demonetisation move.

It is to be seen if BJP can pull off its unhealthy marriage with some of its allies.

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