TODAY -

Whose game is it anyway ?

NS Hemam *



The anecdotes

The headline reads 'A sitting MLA's brother, without naming the MLA, has been arrested and put behind bars in connection with loss of PDS rice.' Given the continuous dog-fight on PDS issues on every local TV channel and print media, it reads as a fascinating line giving the impression that, at last, someone stood-up and has taken a tough call. Even before we could savor the sweet little dish (news), the bitter truth comes to the fore - the arrested man got released without any charge. Please read between the lines 1) the MLA complaint to central BJP leader(s) about his brother's arrest as political intimidation, and 2) subsequently, the central leader(s) intervened and the 'alleged' culprit got released without any charge.

Turn 180,0 another major headline says, completely unrelated to the present political imbroglio, the Ex-DC of Tengnoupal is put behind bars for a corruption related case. The next line says 'there is a strong instruction from Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)' and it makes one wonders why MHA in local corruption case? The follow-up news sums up it all - the Ex-DC was the first and only Govt Official to admit that the current position of pillar No 81 in Indo-Myanmar border stands in the wrong place. The Ex-DC then got transferred to a new posting, and eventually took voluntary retirement from service. Now the Ex-DC is in police custody.

Rewind a little over two years, when the ministerial berths were announced for different political parties, NPP struck gold it was a bingo moment for NPP. Four ministers for four MLAs, and few of them first time MLAs. The worst was yet to come the Deputy CM's post along Finance Ministry was handed to NPP on a platter! Beyond the horizon of Manipur politics, 350 kms away in Shillong, another political maneuvering was underway to dislodge the Congress government in Meghalaya the last frontier of the Congress Mukht North-east.

In a surprise move, a few months into the new government, a New Delhi based scholar, a completely un-known face was appointed as the Chief Advisor to the Chief Minister. There is no harm in appointing renowned experts as advisors in their respective fields, even the Prime Minister does that all the time. Just imagine a 30 odd years old scholar, who has no hands-on-experience of Manipur, setting the agendas for CM of Manipur, thereby the agenda of Manipur state. The only credential he had was he happened to be one of the senior research fellows of India Foundation, a not-for-profit organization runs by the BJP in charge of NE India.

We have also observed with extreme curiosity that every-time the BJP in-charge of NE lands in Manipur, Hon'ble CM is there to receive or send-off at the airport. The Hon'ble CM, who is the head of state, going all the way to airport to receive or send-off a party general secretary? It makes us wonder isn't it a serious breach of protocol?

The common thread

There is a common thread to all of these anecdotes The BJP NE Coordinator/National General Secretary. As BJP stood at the threshold of writing a new political chapter in Manipur, the central leadership made an all-out effort to form a coalition government in Manipur at any cost. The person entrusted to achieve that target was non-other-than the BJP NE Coordinator.

This single minded pursued of BJP bore fruit Shri N. Biren Singh, a relatively new BJP member, who left Congress a few months before the election, was crowned the new Chief Minister of Manipur. The astute maneuvering skills and unorthodox tactics of BJP NE Coordinator was credited for the meteoric rise of Shri Biren Singh and installation of a BJP Government. Was it the positives of Shri N. Biren Singh or was it the negatives of the rest that decided the post of CM? Or, was it a completely different factor that prompted the decision? Or, was it a personal agenda of NE Coordinator 1) to improve his personnel profile at the national level as the one who delivered NE to BJP, or 2) to have complete control over Manipur CM and his cabinet?

Needless to say, to serve a national common goal, State BJP's interests were compromised on many fronts. To defeat Congress in Meghalaya, BJP had to concede to the unreasonable demands of NPP by appointing four MLAs of NPP as cabinet ministers, including the most important portfolio of 'Finance.'

Many deserving and competent BJP MLAs who had toiled for years were ignored. It is a strange situation in a small state like Manipur where approval of an MLA is primarily based on his/her small deeds at the personnel level, not on mega policies/projects BJP MLAs are stuck with an unsupportive finance ministry that invariably blocks or delays every file, and in the process making a huge dent on credibility of every BJP MLA. The ruling party MLAs have become lame ducks, and are completely dependent on other party's decision for implementation of developmental works. The seed of dissent was sown the moment these BJP MLAs became marginal figures in their own government.

The dependence on a few central leaders even for petty matters become more of a norm then exception as time goes by. The recent unconditional release of an MLA's brother, who was considered a serious offender the previous day, after a reported directive from a central BJP leader was a prime example. It also shows the intimidation tactics used by BJP government on one hand and total dependence on center on the other.

The same goes with the arrest of an Ex-DC; even if he was guilty, why was he arrested only after a strong directive from MHA? After all, misuse of public fund is a state matter. As a Manipuri, what the Ex-DC said on Border Pillar No. 81, we all were very proud of. But, unfortunately, it was something that went against the narrative of Central Government. Well, the state Government, being a BJP government, had to do what was asked to do.

Good press, less substance

The final nail in the coffin was fixed when a young lad, with no practical experience whatsoever in Manipur, was appointed as the Chief Advisor to CM, as if people of Manipur had no talent. The Chief Advisor, unfortunately, happens to be just a research fellow working under the BJP NE coordinator. The line comes to a full circle, the state is in the hands of a few individuals (not necessarily belonging to the state) and the state politics is being used and manipulated to strengthen their political standings in the center. We need to be wary about such transgressions more than anything else. The moment their goals are achieved, they will walk away no matter what situation the state or the CM is in. This seems to be the case now.

The astute strategic planning lessons learnt in Oxford days helped the Chief Advisor to sell the "Brand Biren" at the national political landscape, even helping the CM to win one of the best performing CMs award of the country. This also catapult the chief advisor to the national limelight as an expert on NE India issues. Unfortunately, both the planner and the actor seem to have forgotten to factor in the ground reality. In a state like Manipur, which is made-up of very small kin-based constituencies, it would be foolhardy to adopt strategies/models based on the experiences in other big states.

The high-profile missions like 'go to hills', 'go to village', 'go to school', 'miyamgi numit' etc. very good for optics, but marred by complete lack of substance. What have we achieved so far from these high-profile missions? It gives out the wrong signal that only CM delivers and, in the process, devalues all others! Instead of strengthening institutions and functionaries, the CM's effort is demoralizing and weakening institutions. It would be humanly impossible for a single person to deal with all the departments, all the issues, all the communities, and all the places simultaneously.

One-up-man ship is good for self-promotion but it's bad for state politics, and it extremely vulnerable to manipulation. Experience tells us that such centralization always failed in the long run; it's time to empower and strengthen existing institutions and functionaries in a decentralized manner.

It appears that the development steps taken-up in the state, political strategies followed, vindictive pursued of those having different opinions, and overwhelming focus to capture social-media space all these carry the hallmark of a grand strategy followed at the national level. We all need to remember the case of Journalist Kishorchandra. It is time that state's politicians, intellectuals, political analysts, social thinkers, etc. introspect and analyze with a balanced view that such a strategy is good for the state or not.

It's lonely at the top: signs of a desperate man!

A good man with a good heart, who began his new innings in a very positive note by resolving many long-standing issues, seems to have lost his way. The decisions and actions of Hon'ble CM during the last 2-3 weeks have deviated from his earlier well-planned, well thought-out, and well-articulated steps. For instance, the spontaneous announcement at Ukhrul, immediately after cabinet meeting, on State Cabinet reshuffle and subsequent retraction the following day made us wonder - Is the Hon'ble CM sailing on his own? It also shows the inner fragility of Hon'ble CM, without external support from center.

The first misstep - cabinet reshuffle announcement was followed up by a monumental judgmental error. Decision to strip portfolios of Finance and Power from respective Ministers after RBI ban on withdrawals of fund from state account escalated the long power tussle and came out in open. It was perceived as more of a political move then seeking solution to the impending financial crisis. The follow-up clarifications from respective ministers were to be true, then the CM was in the know, and all transactions were allocated funds under approved budgetary allocation. Then, how did the deficit come into being? The answer lies with Hon'ble CM only.

It appears that CM, in a desperate attempt, is making too many enemies all around, which could have been avoided with a better reading and handling of the situation. The man who successfully outwitted BJP stalwarts to become first BJP CM of Manipur is found wanting on many high-risk decisions. This brings us back to the question: is he (CM) now sailing alone?

The selective leaks of confidential information/irrelevant incidents through social media and print/electronic media is a sure sign of lack of confidence and poor leadership. It could be read as an attempt to score some brownie points and put the opponents in poor light. The more one criticizes his/her subordinates in public, the more troubles one invites to himself/herself. Who would've thought of reading a newspaper article on the 'biased stand' of Speaker, which is supposed to be a very confidential and sensitive matter, without re-verification from the speaker. With such steps, its 'highly unlikely to have a rapprochement between the two.

The article on misuse of MP Local Area Development Fund by BJP President and Rajya Sabha MP Shri Bhabanada looks very suspicious; it was published even before proper verification was made. The timing is highly suspect it coincides with the news of MP Bhabananda being considered as the possible replacement candidate, if the CM were to be replaced. Likewise, it is in very poor taste that even small altercations, even if there was one, at Delhi Manipur Bhabhan is being reported as a big fight to malign and discredit the Deputy CM. No matter who was right, who was wrong.

As a final thrust/threat, a few of the BJP MLAs are being accused of sabotaging electorate prospect of BJP candidate in Lok Sabha election. Why this internal party matter is being put in public domain as a threat to these MLAs? All these MLAs happen to be in the so called 'dissident' camp. Just like the MLAs, shouldn't the CM, being the leader of state, also take moral responsibility and face disciplinary action? What if the MLA's were to say 'this is the very reason why Hon'ble CM needs to go.'

There is little development work done in these constituencies, especially for MLA's, in the last two years then how could a powerless MLA convince his voters? Centralization of all power in the hands of CM and ministers have made these MLAs lame sitting ducks, with no opinion and sense of participation in the government

A well-orchestrated disinformation campaign through social and print/electronic media to put the dissidents in a poor light as power mongers, in some way succeeded too, seem to be adding more fuel to the anger of dissidents. Even the social media handlers of CM are adding a 'fear factor' to common people saying that PR is the only option left. Why, Hon'ble CM is opening fights in every front? Is he loosing control of the entire proceedings?

If the dissidents were to open up their grievances (part of the story) in public, just like the other side did, would it help in resolving the crisis? Among all charges, handling, controlling and interfering in decision making process of BJP government by a congress MLA being the gravest of all. Some even suggesting that it's a Congress government in BJP color! Major state policy decisions/agendas were set by his advisors/handlers, not necessarily in State's interest but to fulfill individual political goals. Likewise, there were similar complaints of usurping of powers of ministers by close kin and cronies alike. Centralization of all government activities in the hands of CM is a serious matter, which works against the collective spirit of team work.

What lies ahead?

The uncertainty looms large and no one is sure which direction the central leaders would go. In the meantime, washing dirty linen in public to score some brownie points must be stopped immediately. If the support of Hon'ble CM's mentor, advisor and other party functionaries is still intact, he may have a chance for reconciliation. Given the new development (appointment of a new observer), there is uncertainty all around. the chances of a negotiated settlement appear to have been blown away by a series of pointed squabbles between Hon'ble CM and almost all BJP stalwarts (say, state party president, MPs, Ministers, MLAs, etc.), who presumably are against the CM.

The other possibility is to engineer another large-scale defection from Congress to beat the anti-defection law, and convert them into BJP MLAs. This would help him get the numbers to tide over the present crisis. If this were to happen, then he would have to work in close understanding with the Speaker of the assembly. This, unfortunately, is the most unlikely scenario.

The unpredictable decisions taken up by Hon'ble CM in the last few weeks that precipitated the ongoing tussle, and immediate retraction of most of those decisions seem to suggest that he is not in complete control of the situation. It also suggests that he may not getting the support and back-up that he used to get in the beginning of his tenure. However, the wisdom of central BJP leadership is going to decide the faith of Hon'ble CM.


* NS Hemam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at hemamns(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 04, 2019.



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