E-Pao! Feature - Modern Manipuri politics: An insight

Modern Manipuri Politics: An insight

By: R Yangsorang *

It is by observation of the movement and activities of leaders of political parties in Manipur that something is real in the wake of high-pitched political campaign in greater Imphal area. Regularly new parties were floated some months before every election held in the past and many of such parties died down soon afterwards.

The truth is that there is hardly any political party that has great concern of burning issues of the State, one of which is of Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila who has been on fast unto death since November, 2000 for repeal of the AFSPA, 1958. No commendable voice was raised by any party when the building of Central Library was razed to the ground.

Now that the buildings of the administrative blocks of D.M. College of Science and Imphal College have been burnt down by the arsonists following the unceremonious termination of 466 part-time lecturers from their services is indicative of in-action of the state's machinery and lack of political will.

Because in Communist Cuba and China, parties command barrels. In the United States and Great Britain, the parties formulate policies and the Govts implement them. In our State, the worst is still to haunt the State to create grim situation unless volatile issues are skilfully and timely tackled in a state as complicated and controversial as Manipur.

It can be asked whether political realignment or restructure of parties is for grabbing power only. Hence, political process of the state from the 70s to this time may be briefly elucidated.

Merger syndrome:

There was the UNIC with four MLAs for a very brief period, deterring the state's integrity. But all in a dramatic turn, the party was merged with the INC in 1972 a sigh of relief for all. And a short-lived Manipur Hills' Union could manage to place its leader even in the seat of Chief Minister of Manipur in 1974. Before long, stalwarts of the erstwhile state unit of the Samata Party joined the NCP en bloc. In recent time, there was the Manipur National Conference which was also merged with the RID.

The Federal Party of Manipur which boasted of 13 law makers has finally merged with the MPP, the oldest regional party.

No sooner than an election was over, the parties which failed to produce any result pitifully disappeared almost at once. In due course, leaders of such crest-fallen parties reappeared with new band of followers to form purely fresh parties with varied objectives before every election. This is the main feature of modern Manipuri politics, and what impact it will have in the 9th Assembly election in early 2007 is to be seen.

The people of Manipur will never like to have so many political parties carried along by wind of ego, emotion and temptation in no particular direction. But what are factual is that almost all candidates and most voters are members of a political party; say for instance, INC or any regional party.

Concept of party:

Nevertheless, the idea of party has many different meanings for both candidates and voters. To a candidate, party may be a handful of local leaders who can give or deny him a nomination or the thousands of people whose vote he can count on because he and they share the same party tag, or the policies he favours which were advocated by the presidents and members of his party in the past.

For the voter, party may mean a family of political allegiance extending to two or three generations, or a local political party whose members are bound more in friendship than political philosophy and what not.

The voter may think of a party as a meaningful instrument for taking sides on the great public issues of his day. Still, the concept of party—for all its various meanings—is at the heart of Manipuri politics beginning from the days of Jana Neta Irabot Singh when he was elected president of Manipur Krishak Sabha in 1946. So, many of them in the state consider themselves congressmen or communists or regionalists. But for its importance in our political system, this party tradition was established as part of the system of Govt since 1957.

On the contrary, while the constitution of the land is very specific in providing for much of our political machinery, especially the method of electing the president of the country and members of the state's legislature, it says not a single word about political parties.

Party viewpoints:

In a wider scope, a political party is a group of people who have in common some general ideas of public policy and a very specific idea of political action - that members of their group should be elected to the state's legislature. It explains much of what holds parties together, how they are able to maintain the support of individuals of widely different backgro-unds, viewpoints and objectives.

People who are interested in ideas -especially ideas about what should be done in their community, state and nation-are aware that those in public office are in the best position to get things done. So the thinkers seek out the doers and make common cause with them to translate thought into action. All find their place in a political party of the state.

The modern state political leaders bear little resemblances to the bosses of earlier eras. Today's leaders may exert considerable influence on the political and governmental affairs of the state and their methods and objectives differ from those of the old-style bosses.

With rare exception, they must have far higher standard of honesty, realizing corruption is bad politics. Recognizing a public interest in politics, they will aspire to lead a political organization that works effectively in the public interest.

The activities of party organizations vary greatly from one generation to another or from one era to another. In our state one national party may be strong and effective drawing public support, with daily activity. In States like Orissa Tripura, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal the party may be no more than a paper party, rousing itself at rare intervals only to comply with political requirements for the selection and nomination of the party candidates.


Personnel and tradition seem to account for many of the differences among party organization. A State party that had been lazy in the past can become an aggressive or reliable organization when new and energetic leaders come to power. Before 1972, many political heavy-weights left the Congress to form a regional party.

That very party came to power in the state, though for a brief period. In those days, the regional party activity in the hills was so listless that the party rarely bothered even to nominate candidates or those candidates who were nominated could not be elected.

After 1974, however, a new crop of young political leaders breathed life into the regional party.

Without any further loss of time, they left it and joined the INC. Therefore, the hold of tradition is also important. Politics is essentially a conservative activity: what has been done before determines what is most likely to be done again.

Today, the old ways do change, but slowly and often not until those in po-wer have been replaced th-rough age or political upheaval. A tradition of str-ong party activity perpetuates acceptance of party strength, while a history of weak organizations makes people suspicious of efforts to exert strong political power, scrapping people's welfare programmes.

The Task:

The first task of all party organizations is to maintain control of positions of party leadership. In any state that is well organized politically, the leaders of each party at all levels are in alliance to maintain themselves in power. Rival factions may struggle for power but the state party leadership will often stand back from these local controversies and quickly acknowledge the leadership of the local winning faction.

Within each town or village, the local party leadership works hard to prevent a rival faction from gaining enough strength to mount a serious challenge. Political organizations dislike outright confrontations within their ranks, because they know their party will be weakened and the opposition party will benefit. Local revolutions do occur, however, and these intra-party fights are the most bitter in politics. Also at party headquarters on most days are a loyal band of party workers.

Holding no special positions, they show up faithfully to do the chores, swap political gossip, and offer opinions to anyone willing to listen to their bosses who love talking and to have an audience with them.

Local revolutions do occur, however, and these intra-party fights are the most bitter in politics. Also at party headquarters on most days are a loyal band of party workers. Holding no special positions, they show up faithfully to do the chores, swap political gossip, and offer opinions to anyone willing to listen to their bosses who love talking and to have an audience with them. Their reward is sometimes a minor job on a public payroll, more often just the fun and excitement of mixing the mighty and feeling useful at the nerve center of political activity here and there in Manipur.


All the members of the party will not feel as strongly as others about all issues on which the party takes a stand. Some members may even be opposed to the stand of the party on matters of relative unimportance. But they find it advantageous to stay together so that when an election is won, most of the members find most of their views being advanced by the elected members of the party.

Once formed, political parties tend to stay in existence a long time, especially those that have won enough support to be considered major parties. Issues may arise on which the members sharply disagree, but they make an effort to live with their differences, knowing that their party will help them to progress in those areas where they are in substantial agreement.

Moreover, parties tend to stay responsive to viewpoints that have the support of large number of voters. Very often, most parties temper their previous positions to keep up with the public, rather than cling to unpopular positions and forfeit any chance for success at the polls. There are parties, however, that adhere to a position regardless of the lack of broad popular support.

Political system in Manipur:

The most significant fact about the system of political parties in Manipur has been the existence of so many national and regional parties. In recent times, re-alignment of like minded parties has taken place in the state. All major parties, today, include a broad representation of almost all groups within our state.

By and large, most of the middle class and the wealthy are said to be Congressmen and most of the low-income and poor families are supporting regional parties. An essential difference stems understandably from a basic difference in the parties' sources of strength. Gaining large support from the middle classes and the wealthy, the party that forms the Government is generally inclined to support the interests of rich men and the advantaged while the regional parties, aware of their support from the ranks of the lower income and the poor, tend to favour the interests of working people and the disadvantaged.

It can be studied whether the regional parties often act in the best interests of lower income families or whether national parties often support measures to assist business interests. Politics is the system that helps national, state and local governments to function, yet politics itself has its own internal system of government. Within each of the major political parties is a somewhat private governmental structure similar to the public system of government. People have rights and members of the legislature have powers.

In political parties, too, there are rights of party members and powers of party leaders. As with most systems of government, politics has wise leaders and ineffective leaders; honest leaders and large number of corrupt ones. It has hotly-contested party elections and many that go by default for lack of opposition. Sometimes, they are active and alert; other times they are lazy and indifferent. There are differences from one state to another and differences within each state from one community or region to another.

Democratic politics:

In essence, political parties are frequently criticized for being so political, yet they are expected to operate effectively in a governmental system that is political. The very recent phrases coined by Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, the President of India in his speech during the convocation of Manipur University are noteworthy that there are two kinds of politics - Political politics for winning election and developmental politics for the welfare of the masses.

The electorates are to choose either the former or the latter. For politics—at its best—is simply the means by which the wishes of the public are translated into governmental action. Democracy requires politics, and politics requires vigorous and competitive political parties. After having taken part in eight elections since 1972 and as the last ditch attempt, the people of Manipur will vote now for good candidates for good governance in the coming election.

Also, after having experienced all the elections practically starting from Keisham- thong A/C to different assembly constituencies in the hill districts since 1979, the writer is now afraid if the Election Commission of India really provides video cameras alongwith crewmen to all the polling booths in the hills and valley, every cynical aspect of the proceedings of voting pattern and nature will be video graphed under heavy security guards.

Then and then only, the true picture of democracy in Manipur and how many voters actually get to the booths will clearly be known. The wonder of all wonders will emerge out of the election to the 9th Assembly in spring if only what has been partly assured by the Chief Election Commissioner of India is practically carried out. This is what democrats all over the state of Manipur have been longing for years together.

Transfer of power:

What can be predicted is that Spring time in 2007 will be an extra-ordinary time in Manipuri politics. That will be the time new ministry will be inaugurated. What will make the time so special will be the selection process of only 12 Ministers out of 60 members of the legislative assembly of Manipur, a tough time indeed.

As a result of an election in which about 16 lakhs of people will have voted for control of Government in the state from one political party to the other, alliance or single party. Transfer of such power will occur with such complete acceptance by the people and the acceptance will be so complete that few thought anything noteworthy will happen in the state.

This unquestioned transfer of awesome power by virtue of a narrow election victory or landslide victory will eloquently show the maturity of Manipuri politics for various comprehensive reforms in the state. In short, the selection process at that time will be on the basis of one minister for each district, and the idea of rewarding a prominent district with more cabinet berths will be scrapped to make the ministry more representative and credible.

In all probability, a coalition ministry will be inaugurated again in Manipur as there are more than a dozen of parties, and some of which will surely capture considerable number of seats enabling the single largest majority party which they support in the house to get the magic number to form ministry. Those cross-benchers will join the ministry formed by any political party that has the slightest majority, no doubt.

Before all that takes place in early 2007, what will remain as unforgettable in the mind of every poor common man is that richmen and strongmen of the state have accumulated immense wealth, not only looting and exploiting the state but also working miracle turning paper into gold and gold into paper. With it they buy everything, everything but souls - more accurately said-everything but the overwhelming souls.

They buy land, estates, flats and services and so on, a stable investment for the future of their families, making lakhs of poor people of the state of Manipur second class citizens in their own land evidential from the gap widening between the haves and the have-nots day by day.

A final thought:

Political parties losing ground will learn to let the people govern themselves, and the people of Manipur will learn to accept the results. That is the meaning of strength, hope, and great promise for the future of Manipuri politics. But the greatest, that is unavoidable, is credibility or accountability of the next government.

The common men will have faith in the next regime for bringing an end to the widespread lawlessness, corruption, and such like evils of the society. The people of Mani-pur have become fed up with the incompetence of the political parties, coalition, defection,.. ridden uncertainty, bribery, etc. The will, the capacity and the competence to solve the problems of the state's ruined economic condition and lawlessness could hardly be seen in the political parties when many civil societies are ready to die for the state.

Will the government of any triumphant political party that will come up ever have concern for lakhs of poor, hungry and unemployed people living in the state? They have to keep on waiting to take to the path leading to prosperity until each one of them can buy a fridge, a TV set, a PC, a telephone, a loan car, a house, fuel and electricity or until each one of them gets an employment subsidy, and safe pension of each retired government employee—a dream of a happy developed state.

Today's dreams will be tomorrow's realities.

R Yangsorang wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on December 29th, 2006.

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