TODAY -

Testing the patience of Manipuris, the Congress-UNC way

Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan *



Every election time, Manipur is blockaded by hillsmen particularly Nagas (in 2011 and 2016). Back in 2006-07, the blockaders were hillsmen, Kukis and Nagas together. And, the peculiarity of the blockades/bandhs was that it always culminated to Congress' victory in the following election. At least in the last three elections, excluding the just concluded election, preceded by widespread protests/blockade, O. Ibobi Singh ended up becoming the chief minister notwithstanding the turmoil prevalent just before the elections.

This trend indicates that the Congress party is hand in glove with anti-social elements who resort to bandh/blockade at the drop of a hat. More so, the Congress is a party that works for nobody, not even for the party itself, except for cheap politics to be in power. The lamp of socialism and accountable leadership lighted up by freedom fighters has now gone dim and it will be extinguished by its own members in days (not years!) to come if the results of just concluded Assembly elections in five states are to be taken seriously.

Self-damaging politics

In Manipur, over time, the party has proved its unbreakable commitment to the self-damaging political tactics. Take for instance, in the last five years of Congress Government, Manipur had seen a series of public outrage. In 2012 and 2013, United Naga Council (UNC) imposed blockades/bandhs on and off demanding alternative administrative arrangement for tribes in Manipur.

There was brewing trouble in 2014 on account of inner line permit system (ILPS) demand, which reached its peak in 2015 causing wide-scale damage to public property, forced shutdown of schools, colleges, University affecting academic activities severely, and crippling the economy and daily life. In 2015, the first half of the year witnessed public unrest demanding implementation of ILPS played out in the valley districts, whereas the second half played out in hill districts opposing the demand of the valley people.

The ILPS chaos overshadowed another bloody agitation, which continued till late 2016 resisting the state's illegal land acquisition for National Sports University, and high handedness in tackling the genuine concerns of Affected Land Owners' Association against Forced Land Acquisition for Sports University. Apart from these major issues, communal passion was whipped up allegedly by implicit patronage of people in the Government on several occasions at Uchiwa Nastao in 2014, Mayang Imphal, Lilong Nungei, Kakwa in 2016 targeting Pangals.

In addition, clash between Kukis and Meiteis at Moreh in 2015 aggravated the grievous situation. Law and order condition worsened as there was increase in number of mob-lynching of Pangals culminating to an open gun-fight in Mayang Imphal between Meiteis and Pangals, both valley-dwellers of Manipur. Writing for The Wire on the trend, Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of Manipur's leading English daily Imphal Free Press, lamented,
"Regrettably, the Pangal community in Manipur has come (to) be stigmatized as habitual offenders given to petty crimes like vehicle theft, shoplifting etc., so that in the Lilong mob frenzy, once the victims came to be known to be Pangals, there was likely to have been an extra kick from some or a more vicious punch, causing much more grievous injuries to the victims." (Ref. 1).

It is worth mentioning that the Ibobi Government worked overtime to compromise the parties involved and settle the matter without legally pursuing and punishing the culprits of the numerous cases of mob-lynching. It is abominable fact that mob-lynching had happened even for as unseemly and unconvincing a cause as calf theft by none other than a school head master.

Economic loss

During 2008-2011, there were around 600 bandhs/blockades along NH2 and 37 (Ref. 2). Out of the total 365 days, 224 days were affected by bandhs and blockades in 2010 (Ref. 3). This severely affected the state's economy. A cursory glance at the available reports released by the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Government of Manipur revealed that due to bandhs/blockades/strikes in 2004-05, Manipur lost Rs. 7.7 crore per day, which increased to 30 crore per day in 2010, and 36 crore in 2014-15 (Ref. 2 and 3).

RSS-styled majoritarian politics

By now it is a common knowledge that Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) plan to make India Congress-free is not by defeating the party politically but by ideologically assimilating the Congress into RSS-fold, thereby weakening the political strength of the party. Congress has been practising majoritarian politics in the guise of secularism for many decades resulting in RSS' rise in popularity so much so that the communally divisive politics of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political party backed by RSS, has gained acceptance among the electorate and is now enjoying absolute majority in Lok Sabha. Many disgruntled Congressmen have spoken out against this covert practice. Congress Working Committee member A.K. Antony once admonished party workers to stop 'being congress during the day and RSS at night'.

Back home in Manipur, the Congressmen have tirelessly paved the way for the success of BJP, by not focussing on good governance and realpolitik, in making electoral inroads in Manipur. Multiple defections from Congress to BJP ahead of Assembly elections were like icing on the cake for the saffron party. This contributed to a sharp rise in vote share from 0.85%, and 2.12% in 2007, and 2012 respectively, to a whopping 36% in 2017. This is really what defection means.

The Congress and the BJP bagged in comparable vote share in 2017. This proves that voters failed to differentiate ideologically and politically these parties because one party practises corruption, favouritism, nepotism and communalism covertly, whereas the other wears all of these practices as badge of honour. And, in terms of good governance, both have failed miserably in the past in Manipur and elsewhere.

UNC blockade saga

Forget about good governance in Manipur, the Congress has been employing nefarious designs just for electoral gains. A case in example is the way Congress handled UNC declared indefinite economic blockade along NH37 starting from November 1 last year protesting the state Government's alleged attempt to carve out new districts from Naga-inhabited areas. The Government anyway went ahead with the plan to create not one, but seven new districts in Manipur.

In response to the UNC-called economic blockade, it was surprisingly amusing to hear CM Ibobi Singh's insensitive remark in the media that there was no need to have a public discussion under tent on the formation of new districts as it was merely a matter of administrative convenience. The three-time CM could not give a valid reason as to why his Government did not create the districts in the beginning/middle of his third term or earlier, instead of doing the same towards the term-end. Public were even doubtful that he consulted the members of hill area committee (HAC), required under article 371C, as they had put in papers protesting the ILPS bills in 2015 meaning that they will be not taking part in decision-making process.

Later, the vice-chairman of HAC alleged last December that he was not consulted and hence, he was resigning from the post as well as primary membership of Congress. The timing of the decision to create seven new districts in financially-crunched, infrastructure-challenged, increasingly-corrupt Manipur, where under-staffing and non-payment of salaries have been marring the Government offices, was questionable as elections were knocking at the door.

If the timing of the decision indicated anything at all then it was an attitude of passing the buck while scoring political points just ahead of assembly elections. Interestingly, the recusant public refused to be recoiled and coaxed into believing the CM's justification of the timing: to avoid political instability and disturbance to development works his Government was doing or intended to do. Soon enough, the people's hardships turned into communal passion between hillsmen and plainsmen, while the clamour of ending the blockade became shriller.

Even so, Ibobi Government steered clear of talk with the blockading UNC at Kangpokpi to end the stalemate citing a reason that UNC cannot dictate the terms and conditions of the talk to the Government. UNC, on its part, repeatedly demanded immediate release of its arrested leaders to facilitate meaningful talk, though the Government turned it down every time asking UNC to lift the blockade first to hold talk. However, to calm down the perturbed electorate just before the elections, the Government afforded to airlift the jailed UNC leaders from Imphal to Delhi to carry out a tripartite talk, involving the Union Government, which failed miserably.

After that O. Ibobi Singh had reportedly spoken time and again during election rallies and press meets that his Government was ready to talk with UNC. UNC also has been saying the same. The inconvenienced and hapless public also want the talk to happen, but it has not happened meaningfully to lift the blockade. It appears that UNC and Ibobi Government are two sides of the same coin: one exists because of the other.

The way ILPS, communal tension, widening hill-valley gap, and UNC blockade issues have been dealt with had vividly exposed how the Congress government is testing the patience of democracy. The Government lacked in political will to take decisive action on socio-political issues and pulled itself away from realpolitik. As a consequence, the vote share of the party slumped to 34.7% in 2017 from 42.4% in 2012.

References
1. Pradip Phanjoubam, Manipur's traditional syncretic culture is in danger of being destroyed, The Wire, April 14, 2016, accessed March 11, 2017,
https://thewire.in/29606/manipurs-traditional-syncretic-culture-is-in-danger-of-being-destroyed/
2. Sushil Kumar Sharma, Dynamics of bandhs and blockades in northeast India. A study of Manipur and the way ahead, Manekshaw paper no. 48, 2014, accessed on March 11, 2017,
http://www.claws.in/images/publication_pdf/1017393661_MP48-DynamicsofBandhsandBlockades.pdf
3. Bandh costs Rs. 36 cr per day in Manipur, nelive, December 23, 2015, accessed March 11, 2017,
http://www.nelive.in/manipur/news/bandh-costs-rs-36-cr-day-manipur.

Views expressed in this article are personal


* Mohammad Imtiyaj Khan wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer teaches at Gauhati University, Guwahati, Assam and can be contacted at nohimbo(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on March 13, 2017.


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