BJP: Turning minority into majority
The day the Manipur Assembly election results were out, and it was found that the people had given a fractured mandate, everyone knew the game of 'Aya Rams and Gaya Rams' would begin now – Aya Rams to the BJP and Gaya Rams from other parties. The ruling Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats, followed by BJP with 21, Naga People's Front and National People's Party with four each, Trinamool Congress one, and one Independent. Then the real game began – the game of turning a minority into a majority.
Late in the night, Thaonaojam Shyamkumar, a Congress MLA elected from the Andro constituency and the lone Trinamool Congress legislator from Thanga, Tongbram Robindro, made a bee-line for the Governor's House and conveyed to him their intention of deserting their respective parties and joining the BJP. Next, the NPF and the NPP followed suit. So, BJP's original 21 rose to 31. Since the Congress has 28 seats, did not one member Shyam Kumar's desertion come under paragraph 3 of the Schedule X of the Constitution, dealing with defection? Well, the question can be settled only by the Speaker. But the new Speaker is yet to be elected, as the elected members themselves are yet to be sworn in.
More drama was in store. Ashab Uddin, an independent MLA elected from the Jiribam constituency, contiguous to the Barak Valley in southern Assam, flew into Imphal from Guwahati. He was immediately whisked away by a BJP leader allegedly with the help of the CISF personnel manning the airport. Then he was put on a chartered flight and flown back to Guwahati and put in a five-star hotel where four other Congress legislators of Manipur had already been safely deposited. The Congress cried foul, called it 'abduction' but then doesn't the winner take it all? It was rumoured that 14 other legislators, all elected on the Congress ticket, were ready to desert their party and join the BJP, giving it an unassailable majority, in the interest of providing Manipur with a stable government.
During the election campaign, the BJP did not name its Chief Ministerial candidate. But after consolidating its position on Monday, the BJP announced the name of N. Biren Singh as its claimant for Chief Ministership. Biren was in the Congress until the other day and was known to be very close to Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh. But now that the Congress is on its way out, leaving him to fend for himself, he decided to jump on the winning bandwagon.
But Congress has itself to blame for the sorry state of affairs in Manipur. Dissidence was brewing in the Manipur Congress for a long time. The dissidents claim that they tried to meet the party High Command in Delhi several times to state their grievances but without much success. Ibobi apparently believed that as he was enjoying the support of the High Command, he had nothing to fear. Apparently, he was also unaware that the party loyalty of the dissidents had been put under severe strain and the other side was trying to take full advantage of it by widening the fissures in the Congress.
Ibobi has said since the Congress emerged as the single largest party, Governor Heptulla should have invited him first for government formation. He was in no mood to resign. Ultimately, after the Governor had 'advised' him to resign, he did what he should have done of his own accord. The fact is that though the Congress is the single largest party, it polled only 35 per cent votes against the BJP's 36.3 per cent.
The heaviest loser in the election battle is, however, Irom Sharmila Chanu and the political party she floated – the People's Resistance and Justice Alliance (PRAJA). Irom Sharmila pitted herself against Chief Minister Ibobi in the Thoubal constituency. She polled just 90 votes, against Ibobi's 18,649 votes and the BJP candidate Basant Singh's 8,179. From the beginning, it was evident that she was going to be a washout. She was a political novice, and the people of Manipur were against her decision to end the long fast for withdrawal of AFSPA. Another reason is said to be her decision to marry a foreigner. The people did not like it either.
As the BJP, unlike the Congress, is a well-knit and highly centralised party, the non-BJP MLAs who have decided to support it are unlikely to withdraw their support. What remains to be seen is if defections further reduce the Congress party's strength. Members of Congress not only in Manipur but all over the country are getting demoralised at the steady decline in the electoral fortunes of their party. Soon they may be openly expressing their disappointment with Rahul's leadership.