Slow down, be steady
Although the sensational news of the health minister, Langpoklakpam Jayentakumar Singh, resigning came as a big shock, it must be said that it was not to the same extent, a surprise. Nobody was expecting differences to show up this early when the new BJP-led government is barely a month old, but nobody was confident that all differences within had been buried and forgotten immediately after the BJP won the battle for the magic number after the electorate threw up a badly fractured and hung Assembly. It must be said, what we are witnessing now, is an inevitable feature of a coalition government, especially one formed in such great hurry and desperation after the election, and not by a pre-poll partnership of parties with similar ideologies and with a definite consensus on a common minimum programme. We are sure, and indeed hope, that chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh will be able to stem the dissent within before it assumes crisis proportion, but even if he does, it would be prudent for him to not forget that this is only the beginning of such troubles he would be burdened with, and that in the months and years ahead, there will be more to handle, and if he is not careful enough, each of them can become a survival threat for his ministry.
Probably because of the surfeit of energy in him and his intent to prove his government is far more committed to public good than the predecessor Congress government headed by Okram Ibobi Singh, in his few weeks as the chief executive of the state, Biren has been appearing like a man in a hurry, making headline breaking policy statements of his government almost on a daily basis. These statements no doubt created the right kind of splashes and right kind of public murmurs, giving his infant government a positive image, but probably he is discovering that Newton’s Third Law of Inertia applies not just to the physics of gravity but also public policies. Every action therefore has to have an equal and opposite reaction. From all indications and clues available from the resigned health minister, this is one of these Newtonian reactions. In his rush to get into the action mode and to have his government shift gears and move to the fast track, he seems to be negligent of the understanding that in a parliamentary democracy, the leader is only supposed to be first amongst equals in his cabinet, and not one who towers over the cabinet and even his own party. There are some, such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has shown the gift to break from this parliamentary democracy mould and uniquely define leadership on his own terms, but there are dangers in trying to emulate this style. The health minister’s resignation is probably a demonstration of this danger.
It is not a question of disagreeing with the tsunami of policies the new government has been announcing in the last one month. Instead we flag this caution to the new government as a poser to reflect on whether these policies are a result of cabinet consensus. If these policy statements announced through the media are without prior cabinet consensus as indeed they seem to be, we cannot doubt that short circuits will result, if not now than sometime soon. Governance cannot be via a string of one ad-hoc step after another, but have to follow carefully considered and strategized policy blueprints. As a well-wisher, we would like to advise the chief minister to slow down. The world is not about to end anytime soon and he has to make sure his government’s path for the next five years is smooth and trouble free. Needless to say this can be best done by not breaking the rules of the game habitually. As someone who has been an outstanding player of the team sport of football, Biren should not have any difficulty understanding this. Play by the rules to make sure the team’s rhythm is not broken, but take the freedom to creatively transgress the rule at opportune moments to score goals and take the team forward. It is also not necessary for only the captain to score goals, and other members of the team must be equally encouraged to score. The most important objective is for the team to emerge winners at the end of the game. There is another danger the Biren has to be wary of. The growing impression now is that he is slowly but surely allowing himself to become the proxy of the powerful leadership at the centre. The BJP government in Manipur was made by the exercise of the clout of the BJP government at the Centre, but this does not mean Manipur must come under Central rule by proxy.