Manipur Cabinet : A blurry mosaic of representation ?

Boilal Gangte *

Let's start-off with some of the recent winning speeches of the leading politicians of the world.

1. Emmanuel Macron (2022)-"Thank you! I'm not the candidate of one camp anymore, but the President of all of us"
2. Joe Biden (2021) -"Folks, I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American President. I will work as hard for those who didn't vote for me as those who did"
3. Donald Trump (2017) - "It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans"
4. Narendra Modi (2019)- "Today's victory is not a victory for Modi. This is a victory for the aspirations of every citizen of this country"

There is one common thread across the winning speeches of most politicians (big or small). They will represent the entire people-voted for or voted against or didn't vote or voted NOTA. Rightly so, because that's how a thriving democracy ought to function. Irrespective of the party, caste, tribe religion, orientation, gender, etc., the moment a candidate gets elected he/she automatically becomes the representative of the entire people.

However, in a complex political set up with multi-layered diversities, representations can be tricky, especially from the perspective of the Vote-Banks. Therefore, the most practical route is to ensure that representation comes from all quarters, at least the important and relevant ones.

Imagine the "Act East" policy of PM Modi without a single Minister in his Cabinet coming from the North East ? It certainly will hold less water. It'll not be an exaggeration to say that the present moment probably has the highest degrees of "Indian-ness" amongst the general mass of the North East people, which was not the case in the yester years.

One of the reasons is that the visibility and inclusivity of North East under PM Modi is much more. Also, a big reason could be because of a stronger representation in the Union Cabinet. Today North East boast of 2 Union Ministers in the Cabinet and this surely means something to the people of North East. Because representation brings "belonging-ness" in any one of us in any set-up.

Representation in State Assembly is no lesser deal !

The State Assembly is the law-making machinery of any Indian State, the apex body. Led by the CM along with his Cabinet Ministers and fellow representatives both from the ruling and Opposition quarters.

It decides almost everything which concerns the life of every citizen - Right from "repairing or building road" or "increasing the price of rice" or "whether to impose lock-downs" or "reducing the price of petrol" or "whether continuing SoO" or "whether one gets arrested for posting certain opinions on Facebook" or "whether the internet in a locality should be jammed", etc. and so on.

The Cabinet is akin to "The King and His Councils" in the olden days. While, the Opposition representatives do have stakes in the process and in the Courtroom, it'll be the wish of most citizens to be represented by the incumbents rather than from the Opposition's quarters.

All of us feel good whenever the candidate we voted for become a Minister with a certain portfolio. It gives us a sense of achievement and exhilaration. I'm sure you too might have observed some friends or acquittances becoming snooty when the CM rolls out or restructure portfolios and induct a new Minister.

Irrespective of whether one may actually benefit from a candidate becoming a Minister, but every citizen always feels good if his/her candidate make it to the Cabinet. Afterall, the Cabinet is the CORE group of the State, who decides the law and the way of life for the people of the State.

This nice feeling is not just because of some material opportunity, but it is also very much a sense of esteem and even an adrenaline rush. Hence, being represented through one's representative is a big deal for every citizen in the State.

Is our current Cabinet of 12 colourful enough like "United Colours of Benetton"?

For the younger Millennials and downwards, it may sound some mumble jumble. But for the older millennials and the GenX, "United Colours of Benetton" was a brand to die for. It's hip, it's trendy and it's an aspiration. Just a black T-Shirt with a simple line of "United Colours of Benetton" was more levitating than wearing a 3-piece suit or a designer collection.

However, UCB was not superior because of the functional benefits or the creative design,but it's because of the aspiration the "brand" exudes. The brand stands for something which is inherent to every human i.e.,"Representation of everyone" or "Unity in Diversity", the pillar on which our Constitution stands, the world stands and our deep inner-self also stands.

"Unity in Diversity" or "Right Representation" can never be absolute when trying to measure. There will always be an element of discretion, coming from individual/s and which will eventually lead to biases. In such circumstances, the best approach is to try and minimize the biases using numbers, because "numbers don't lie" while "lips may lie".

Let's have a small comparative table of the various districts of Manipur on various variables and see the representation in the Cabinet. Disclaimer - since we don't have full data for all the newly formed districts, hence we go by the older set-up.

The comparative analysis is done on 3 parameters, 2 of which are fundamental (Population & Landmass) with higher scoring weight. The third parameter is for a more practical point of accommodating human emotions (BJP's win percentage in the district) with lesser weights. To make the inference simpler and more digestible, let's further break it down into valley and hills, because that's what it always boils down to (with some pun).

The Valley does look bumpy !

Thoubal with a 15% of the State population (25% of the valley population) is unrepresented, while Bishnupur with just 8% of the State population has double representation. This looks off-track, considering the fact that Bishnupur is not where the BJP has the best win percentage. If we go by the mathematical equation, both Bishnupur and Thoubal deserves the same representation.

A simple one representative to each district could have made the table more eye pleasing. Nevertheless, there may be many rhymes and reasons, let's leave that to the politicians. Second, representation of both Imphal East and Imphal West looks overweight, considering the fact that both Constituencies are under on contiguous city and portfolios of some of the Ministers are many times heavier than that of other Minsters. This is putting pressure on the representation balance.

The Hills also look bumpy

While all the numbers lead to "Churachandpur" but reality skips only Churachdanpur in the hill districts. The case of Churachandpur looks an eye-sore. Amongst the hills, Churachandpur gave the maximum seats to the BJP and has the second-best win %, even the mathematical equations root for Churachandpur, however luck seems to favour Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong though the numbers don't merit them.

To conclude!

One will never get the perfect mosaic of representation and it will be worthless chasing. However, in an electoral democracy like us, every citizen (small or big) knows that representation is very crucial for everyone till the last mile. Because that is the most effective and strongest possible way for a citizen to present her/his voice in a democracy set-up like India.

While it's difficult to get the perfect science of representation, it is not so difficult to avoid "Un-Representation" or "Under-Representation". Having said that, this is not the end of it. If the Cabinet takes cognizance of this fact and ensure rightful equity is passed-on to the unrepresented or the under-represented, the end will justify the means.

And we believe in our elected representatives to provide us a JUSTIFIED END.

* Boilal Gangte wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an IIM Bangalore alumnus, an entrepreneur and an independent analyst
This article was webcasted on May 15 2022.

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