Manipur: After 15 years, Manipur has a non-Congress government in the state. Desire for "change" and an anti-incumbency wave brought the BJP to power in Manipur. Voters wanted to see a new government; a non-Congress government with new faces; a 'different party'. In a state that does not usually see the BJP ruling the state, this time the pulse of the common citizens was: give the BJP a chance. The ruling dispensation at the Centre no doubt played a major influence.
Though unable to get a majority, the BJP aggressively took power from the Congress by forming coalition with four other smaller parties. With support from the National People's Party (NPP), Naga People's Party (NPF) Trinamool Congress, Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP), an independent and one Congress rebel, the BJP was able to make it to the magic mark of 32.
Recently, another Congress MLA also joined the ruling BJP and, reportedly, many more are likely to jump ship in the near future.
There are high expectations from the coalition government led by Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh. Civil and traditional bodies/ organisations, including media groups made a beeline to meet the CM, each armed with their own list of demands and proposals.
The lifting of the four-month-long economic blockade along the national highway, a master-stroke for the new CM, further boosted hopes of the people. Biren's slogan "go to the hills" resonated with people as he was accorded a warm welcome in Ukhrul – the district that had made known its dislike of former Congress Chief Minister Ibobi Singh.
Within a month of forming the new government, the excited BJP-led coalition made several ambitious announcements and brought out a "to do list". One of its ambitious attempts is to clean up the mess of the 15-year Congress rule. Among others, an anti-corruption cell has been setup, where more than 500 complaints have been registered so far. In an attempt to revive the pathetic and non-functioning government schools, Biren Singh announced that the government will soon introduce a policy for deducting salaries of employees who send their children to private schools. Singh also announced that 32,400 skilled unemployed persons will have jobs by 2022.
But there have been hiccups as well. The suspension of a regional medical institute director has been a huge embarrassment to the coalition. State Health Minister (of the National People's Party) immediately threatened to resign on the ground that he was not consulted over the matter. Though the issue has been 'managed', it revealed the fragility of the coalition government.
The poll promise of ensuring an honourable burial for the unclaimed nine dead bodies in Churachandpur town might not happen soon. Undoubtedly, Biren invited the Churachandpur Joint Action Committee (JAC-AATB), which is spearheading the agitation against passing of the three ILP related bills in 2015.
The first meeting, meant to break ice, was cordial. There were expectations that the agitation would come to end soon. But in the next meeting, the two parties could not come to an agreement on the schedule for the next meeting.
Unlike the CM and his team's plan to end the matter in one go, the JAC-AATB were not in a hurry. They want to hold public consultations, taking people into confidence as they prepare for negotiations.
Manipur's 11th state legislative assembly has a new chief minister and a few new faces. But familiar faces still dominate the 60-member assembly. Most significantly, many of the legislators in the current dispensation were members of the Congress or other regional parties. Old wine in new bottle would be an apt description. The new chief minister Biren Singh himself was a Congressman until last year. He has been a two-time minister in the Congress-led government.
Though change is anticipated, there is unlikely to be any 'change' from the previous government. The Congress with 28 MLAs is sitting in the opposition but is likely to lose several legislators to the BJP. Hence, the much-hyped 'new government' too will to be no different.