Begin on a clean slate
The matter as to who should rule Manipur for the next five years is settled conclusively. The BJP-led coalition headed by Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh today proved the majority it enjoys on the floor of the Assembly. Let everybody respect this mandate and allow the new government get along with the serious business of governance without further ado. Let the Congress party too swallow its pride and concede to those who have challenged its might and defeated it, whatever route it took. If it is unhappy about not being given a chance to form a coalition and prove its strength despite being the single largest party with 28 seats of its own, let it also know there is nobody else to blame but themselves. In the immediate wake of the results declaration on March 11, this party which has ruled for the last 15 years continuously and many more years before that, seemed rather weighed down by overconfidence, and did not immediately go about rounding up MLAs from the smaller parties and ensuring that they did not stray away from their grip. The party probably was sure the NPP’s four would come with them without even trying too hard. It had a letter, purportedly signed by the NPP state unit’s president and general secretary, that the party would support the Congress, and probably it thought this was enough. Much water has flowed down the Imphal river in the few days that followed, and there can be no turning back the clock, and the reality now is, the state will be led by a BJP government supported by several other smaller parties. Whatever happened thus far are all part of democracy’s number game, so nothing very much to complain about, except perhaps what had seemed a way too overt enthusiasm of the governor Najma Heptulla to come to the conclusion – according to constitutional experts out of the book too – to not give the single largest party the first opportunity to prove its majority.
Even if the question of who should be given the first chance to form a government is a matter of legal opinion, there was one scene which was absolutely beyond public pardon. A newly elected Congress legislator was not just allowed, but actually encouraged to ditch his original party. We are confounded how the BJP which has always pledged to bring in a corruption free government can decide to begin its onerous new innings in the state by being lenient on this vilest and most treacherous act of corruption. Switching party loyalty before the election is bad enough but this is a matter of a bad taste in the mouth only, however doing so after fighting and winning and election on the ticket of a party and without even the excuse of differences with party leaders, simply betraying the party for lust for power should not have been encouraged at any cost. It will not only destroy whatever is remaining of the moral fabric of politics in the state, but tarnish the image of the entire people of the state as gullible and non-vigilant, if not partners in such unscrupulous acts of political back stabbing. In this light, it is also unfortunate that the Assembly did not conduct the vote of confidence by ballot so as to ascertain which side of the party whip the MLA in question voted, thereby facilitate disqualification proceedings under the 10th Schedule of the Constitution if he officially decides to cross floor. Since this was not so, the MLA must still be treated as Congress and therefore it must also be said that the BJP coalition government on paper includes the Congress. We suppose the Assembly in its wisdom will in the course of the current session settle this question beyond any ambiguity. Since the Congress claims it is not part of the BJP coalition, it too must insist on the status of the MLA, not so much for its own sake, but to ensure quality, rule of law, politics to the people of Manipur.
We hope the new government stabilises legitimately on what is has. We hope in the days ahead there are no longer any despicable and shameful shows of floor crossing from either side of the divide in the House. At the moment, given the fragility of the number balance, it can still happen from either side. It is quite disillusioning that many in the enlightened section of the public seem to have no qualms about such politics and willingly encourage defection in favour of the parties they support. We hope sense and sensibility return to this beleaguered land and the larger public become entitled to the dignity overdue to them for long. In the meantime, we in the media must live by the pledge of our profession to always be the adversaries of power, not because we despise power, but because it is our duty to check power remains strictly under democratic norms. More than at other times, what India-born British writer, George Orwell once said needs to remain the state media’s credo: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”