Sunday, March 18, 2012

Overwhelming victory for Congress or benumbing blow to public issues?

Indeed astounding! Congress captured an overwhelming 42 seats in the 60-Member Manipur Legislative Assembly. It was well expected Congress would come out as the single largest majority but nobody ever thought in their wildest imagination that Congress would ever win such a massive landslide victory. It seems no other party can stand before Congress party, forget about competing against them. Once again, Mr Okram Ibobi has scripted another landmark history by becoming the 23rd Chief Minister of Manipur, that too for three consecutive terms. Strangely, Ibobi himself, if not the Congress party as a whole, was seen as a nemesis of both the hills and valley, Nagas, Kukis and Meiteis alike before the recent Assembly election. Yet, Ibobi and his party have been, once again, elected to power by the same people who fought long drawn battles against his rule or rather misrule.
It was hardly two months before the election was held that the Sadar Hills Districthood Demand Committee and the United Naga Council called off their crippling highway blockades that went past the century mark. It was in 2009 when Rabina and Sanjit were shot dead in cold blood by police commandos right in the heart of Imphal city in broad day light triggering a series of massive protest movements in Imphal valley against the Government led by Mr Ibobi. This is not much surprising if we recall that Ibobi had survived and his party come out unscathed out of many such tumultuous encounters, the most notable being the historic protest movement of 2004 summer that engulfed all the valley districts, if not the hills following the brutal rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama by some savage Assam Rifles personnel. The historic protest movement reached its pinnacle when Pebam Chittaranjan self immolated and 12 women protested in nude before the Kangla garrison of Assam Rifles. Unable to cope with the sustained agitation, Ibobi decided to lift Armed Forces Special Powers Act from some areas of Imphal valley and this was followed by Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s announcement to vacate Assam Rifles from Kangla. Over the years, these two ‘achievements’ became the most popular and perhaps tallest claims of the Congress party to woo voters in subsequent elections, conveniently overlooking all the sacrifices and violent agitation that raged for months.
But the important question is, was the previous two Congress led Governments under O Ibobi which was marked by stability and continuity, synonymous with governance? Or for that matter, was there a semblance of peace and progress in the state? First, there is need for clarification regarding the stability factor. The stability factor was not a creation of the Congress or statesmanship of the Chief Minister. In 2002, after Ibobi was sworn in as the Chief Minister of Manipur, within 10 days, the proverbial revolt from within began to raise its ugly head. By a strange twist of fate or fortune, the Congress led Secular Progressive Front (SPF) Government in Manipur was saved by the Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance Government in Delhi when it passed the stringent anti-defection Bill.
If one goes by the election result of the 2012 election, then governance and peace and progress did not matter. In our opinion, electors were swayed by short term gains, in terms of running a family and meeting a square meal, than by long term political gains such as the issue of removal of the infamous Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act and associated human rights violations including fake encounters, territorial integrity of the state or even the issue of governance in terms of road connectivity and development especially development of NH-37, frequent bandhs and strikes, drinking water, electricity, health, education and others. The demand for withdrawal of the Armed Force Special Powers Act from various areas in the state was virtually swept under carpet when it came to the voters exercising their franchise. Except for the Congress, rest of the political parties had stated that they would work for withdrawal of the Act if they were voted to power. But, the Congress had made it clear that the party would withdraw the Act only when the law and order situation improved in the state.
Out of the total 60 Assembly seats, Congress captured a record 42 seats including two in Ukhrul District (Chingai and Phungyar), the stronghold of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah), where the election mobilization was carried out for Naga People’s Front by United Naga Council, the frontal organization of NSCN-IM. SPF Government is popularly remembered for expanding the number of employee base of the state during its two terms, notably recruitment of police personnel including the infamous Village Defence Force under the Home Department, a portfolio held by Ibobi Singh. The state government has 10,695 Armed Police as on 31.12.2009 (Men + Women) against the sanctioned post of 14,413. In addition, there are 8,541 Civil Police Including District Armed Police as on 31.12.2009 (Men + Women) against the sanctioned post of 14,964. There are also 2,211 Home Guards and Auxiliary Force during 2009 (Crime in India, 2009, National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, 2010).
There were recruitments pertaining to Manipur Civil Services after almost a decade, college lecturers, district council school teachers, state government primary and graduate teachers, health services, etc amounting to about more than 4000 posts in total. Moreover, there were employment generation through various major Central Schemes including 536 post in Rastriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), 1951 post in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), 416 post in National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which in the eyes of the general public was the creation of the Congress led SPF Government or credit should be accorded to the incumbent government. To popular imagination, stability factor as well as return of the Congress to power, can guarantee regular payment of salary. The acute financial crisis during the Manipur State Congress Party led United Front Government under W. Nipamacha Singh after 5th Central Pay Commission was implemented at the fag end of the 90s was still fresh in the public memory. Congress led SPF Government did survive on mass psychosis as well by proving that it could live upto public (employee) expectation by “delivering”.
In March 2011, fear psychosis was created by the Government when it stated that subsequent upon the implementation of the 6th Central Revised Pay, the State Government has started running into deficits amounting to Rs 83 crores every month. If the present trend continued and the Centre refused to release at least Rs 500 crores as advanced Plan Assistance, State Government employees may not receive their monthly salaries regularly or in time from the month of June 2011. It further added that with the deficits accumulating every month, the State would not be in a position to pay monthly salaries to employees from June in case the Planning Commission refuses to release Rs 600 crores as advanced Plan Assistance at the earliest. To tide over the financial difficulties expected to be suffered by the State Government following implementation of Central 6th Pay recommendations to its employees, Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh requested the Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to release Rs 300 crores (The Sangai Express, Imphal, March 5, 2011).
If a gloomy picture of financial crisis was painted by the Government, then it also proved its ability to “deliver”, by virtue of having a good relation with the Centre, when in the month of August, the Centre released Rs 300 crores as advanced Special Plan Assistance to recuperate the monthly deficits of Rs 83 crores being run into by the State Government. This certainly etched in the public memory and acted as a deciding factor during the Assembly election. At the time of going to the elections, there were 65,000 regular employees, 3,477 contract employees and 34,000 pensioners under the payroll of the State Government. These categories formed a sizeable chunk of the 17 lakh electorate in Manipur. Assuming that employees in the two former categories have a minimum of two dependents each, altogether, there were 2,39,431 individuals who are dependent upon regular inflow of monthly salary. The SPF Government is also equally remembered for fostering a sizable chunk of contractors (who christen themselves as social workers) during its two term tenure. It is common knowledge that there is a close nexus between the Government and the contractors. In other words, survival of a contractor depends upon blessing of a minister or MLA and the same needs funding from the latter during the times of election.
Now that Mr O. Ibobi Singh has returned as the Chief Minister for the record third time, it remains to be seen whether the huge mandate the party has enjoyed will be turned into governance or not. But what is at stake is the role of opposition, which constitutes a compulsory element or rather hallmark of parliamentary democracy. Now the serious issue is, with virtually Congress capturing 70 percent of the seats, what role can the remaining 30 percent play in the Assembly for effective governance. It is anybody’s guess.

This article was published in The Sangai Express on Sunday, March 18, 2012

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