Cat on hot tin roof
The dates for the Manipur elections together with those of four other states have been announced. It does seem now there will be no President’s Rule in the state ahead of the elections as so many have been speculating or wishing, and indeed as the rumour mills said was a certainty in the past few days. Since only a spell of President’s Rule could have extended the current term of the Assembly by as much as six months, it is now certain the term of the current Assembly will be as scheduled and unbroken. Chief Minister Okram Ibobi will thereby go down in the record book as the first chief minister to complete three full terms by the time the next government is sworn in. Although another veteran, Rishang Keishing, also did three terms as chief minister, his stewardship did not complete full terms in all three, although it must be said there is a big difference in the nature of Assembly politics during the periods of the two leaders. Rishang did his stint while there was no Anti-Defection Law to protect his governments, while Okram Ibobi’s reign is fortunate to correspond almost exactly with this piece of tough legislation disciplining and ensuring to a great degree the loyalty of law makers to the party that elected them. There is one more important distinction that can still come about. Ibobi can return as the next leader but Rishang who is well into his 90s now, cannot.
But records of ministry longevity are another matter. The quality of governance should be what makes the difference in the end. From this standpoint, from the manner Ibobi’s last term is concluding, it is uncertain how he and his government will be remembered by posterity. We refer in particular the current controversy over the creation of seven new districts; the blockade by the United Naga Council; and the manner in which the current government is handling the emergent situation. Some see Ibobi as a Machiavellian schemer, dividing up people to ensure his throne; others see him as tough and determined in steering the ship he is captain of; and yet others see him as indecisive even in the face of grave crisis facing his subjects. One thing is certain, Ibobi is someone nobody can be indifferent to. There are only those who hate him from their guts and equally those who adore his guts and think only he is capable of keeping a troubled state like Manipur together in one piece. The March election in this sense will be somewhat a very important report card given him by the people on his style of leadership.
Much has been written of the creation of seven new districts, but as we see it, the only one which was at the eye of the storm was Kangpokpi created out of the former Selected Area Development and Administrative Region, SADAR. Much has been written of the justification or the lack of it on this matter, including in these columns, and we will not go through them again yet and leave further discussions on it for another day. For now, what is certain is, Ibobi has little time left before his term ends to settle the immediate and grave fallouts of the districts creation. The chain of actions and reactions, starting from an indefinite blockade along the state’s two main lifelines, followed by the arrest of two leaders of the UNC, a brief but violent counter-blockade on routes leading away from the valley but one which can come back again in case the blockade continues, and in the wake of all this, a continued embittering of relations between the various ethnic communities in the state, has been sordid. Is Ibobi going to leave this dangerous matter unresolved? This is a situation which apparently even the Centre is averse to handle. It has sent troops to the state, though belatedly, but Ibobi does not seem too keen to use them, and quite obviously too, for casualties will only worsen the situation. What he instead preferred, as he had so often stated, was to have the Centre put the opening of the national highways as a condition on the UNC through the NSCN(IM) with which the Centre is holding peace talks.
One thing is certain. Despite all the allegations that Ibobi should not have gone ahead to create the districts, nobody is willing to see that this too would not have solved the problem for there would still have been trouble from those demanding Kangpokpi district. The positive way of looking at the problem then would be to see, without resorting to rhetorical cleverness and emotional blackmails, if Kangpokpi and the other new districts deserved to become districts, and if creating them has meant any radical division of peoples. Perhaps, until the state’s populations are able to mellow down their ethnicity passions, Kangpokpi’s octopus-like arms can do with a little pruning so that villages sharing affinities with neighbouring districts are free to be with the districts of their choices. Perhaps this is a way Ibobi can leave the stage with some satisfaction of bringing the heat of a contentious issue below flashpoint.