By Tirthankar Mitra
An open air gymnasium being set on fire at Churachandpur merely 60 kilometres away from Manipur capital, Imphal followed by chief minister, N Biren Singh being advised not to come to the trouble spot are some of the ominous signs indicating that things are not at all shipshape for the BJP in this North Eastern state a year before Lok Sabha election. The district magistrate imposing section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and state home department suspending internet services for the next five days from April 28 are further pointers that augurs ill for the saffron party regime in this north eastern state..
If the present state of affairs is anything to go by, voters may not support BJP come 2024 Lok Sabha elections. The functioning style of the present BJP state government has ruffled a lot of feathers.
Describing the Churachandpur incident to be an act of hate mongers, chief minister Singh threatened to act tough. Appropriate action would be taken and the miscreants would be put back behind the bars, he said.
Yet a tough act would not be an easy Inclusion in the chief minister’s agenda as after having sworn in recently, the Biren Singh led BJP government of Manipur has to tread cautiously. The ominous signs of its house being divided were visible right from the time when Singh was about to be sworn in as the chief of BJP’s legislative party.
Of the 32 MLAs invited, only six turned up making Sambit Patra, BJP’s national spokesman and in charge of Manipur ask Govindas Konthoujam propose Biren’s name for the post of the chief. Konthoujam did so and a tribal MLA seconded it making Biren Singh chief minister for the second time.
It may be mentioned Konthoujam headed the Manipur Congress and had joined the BJP before the elections. Thus none from the ranks of veteran BJP MLAs being available to propose Singh’s name as the chief of the BJP legislature party speaks volumes about the solidness and expanse of the second time chief minister’s support base.
As for things reaching flashpoint at Churachandpur, trouble had been brewing ever since Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) had called a sunrise to dusk bandh on 28 April. The announcement was followed by the arson at the gym the night before the bandh.
A rumour of the chief minister going to attend the function sent a large crowd near the gym triggering a stand off with the police. Tear gas shells were lobbed accompanied by police firing, two policemen were injured and six persons arrested.
It seems Kuki community has been rubbed the wrong way after Singh announced forming the Manipur Peoples Commission and asking the Centre to implement the National Register of Citizens in Manipur. The Kuki apprehension cannot be stated to be unfounded as large number of Kukis have infiltrated from Myanmar and intermingled with their kinsmen with similar surnames and thus stand the risk of losing their citizenship.
Trouble appears to have been kickstarted by the present BJP dispensation at Manipur when Kuki National Organisation and Xomi Revolutionary Organisation, both militant outfits, decided to be pulled out from suspension of operations, a tripartite agreement and understanding between some 26 militant Kuki outfits. Both the organisations were suspected to be involved in poppy plantations.
A letter from ITLF to the chief minister asking him to reconsider the matter has yielded no results. Kukis continued to be rubbed the wrong way after aiming to evict encroachers the chief minister ordered survey of wetlands, reserve forests and protected forests which house many “unofficial” Kuki villages.
Chief Minister Singh does not seem to have too many options to keep the Kuki vote bank of his party intact during the Lok Sabha elections next year. A rollback of the programme to evict encroachers read “unofficial” Kuki villages from government land or offering the evicted populace a sop in the form of rehabilitation elsewhere seem to be another option before him.
Backtracking on the existing programme would boil down to reduction of the chief minister’s authority but would open a line of communication with the ITLF which would be advantageous during election next year. Offering a sop to the aggrieved Kukis would be a short term solution as the demand for living space would again be raised in future.
Unhappiness of MLAs with the chief minister came to the fore following a raft of resignations from the legislators running the different state-run corporations. Karam Shyam Singh chairman, Manipur Tourism Development Corporation, Paonam Brajen Singh chairman Manipur Development Society, KH Raghumani Singh chairman Manipur Renewab Energy Development Agency have all put in their papers.
The grouses of these MLAs vary but they are all directed to chief minister Singh. Karam Shyam rues of having no role in organising the tourism festivals and being publicly humiliated.
Works executed by Manipur Development Society had work orders cancelled was pointed out by Brojen Singh. The chief minister is increasingly finding the ground below his feet to be sinking.
Chief Minister Singh’s allies are turning into opponents. His own party leaders are openly expressing their hostility towards him.
Seeing storm signals, fire fighting operations headed by Sambit Patra started on April 26. Trying to pour oil on troubled waters, he was closeted with the legislators, meeting one at a time.
No matter, whatever the extent of peacemaking efforts are, once some of the Manipur BJP leaders have defied the leadership persuading them to join the poll fray led by chief minister Singh will be a tall order. For the dissidents will either seek the chief minister’s removal or downgrading of his authority in the conduct of the election campaign.
Reading the riot act to the dissidents will send a wrong message to the party rank and file. Moreover, such an act would dent the BJP’s Image of being a party with a difference.
Dissension is haunting the chief minister who seems to be in urgent need for course correction. It can be in the form of a Cabinet reshuffle or a complete reorientation by projecting new leaders may see BJP sans its back to the walk in next year’s Lok Sabha elections.
Truth to tell, things are steadily going downhill for the saffron camp in Manipur with no indication of a turnaround. Continuing to rest on a bed of laurels of this year’s Assembly polls, it can find itself on a bed of thorns when Lok Sabha election comes calling next year. (IPA Service)