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Lesson from Manipur: decentralise Congress, ignore ultras


wasbir hussain
DIRECTOR, Centre for Development and Peace Studies

The Congress party’s star swashbucklers like Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, Manmohan Singh and the others, had no time to campaign for the polls in Manipur. Yet, the party led by the shy Ibobi Singh, managed to sweep the elections, winning 42 of the 60 Assembly seats and decimating the opposition. The insurgents, seven outfits in all, had ganged up against the Congress, the ‘party of mainlanders’, and ordered people not to vote for it. The result was there for all to see - the people not only defied the rebels’ diktat, they gave the so-called insurgents a royal snub by voting in strength for the Congress, and giving the party a clear mandate to rule the state of 2.7 million people.

Manipur provided the fig leaf that the Congress high command was desperately looking for on March 6, the day of the results, and yet there was no acknowledgement by the party leadership of the sedate Ibobi Singh’s poll performance. At least, no public pat on Ibobi’s back by anyone of consequence in the Congress party and no thank you to the people of Manipur for voting the party back. Who knows Ibobi & Co. in Manipur could actually be thanking their stars at the fact that no central leaders of the party bothered to come and campaign! Who knows their speeches could have antagonized the voters. After all, they would have come from Delhi, the power centre where their Government is embroiled in scams after mega scams. And the corruption in Manipur, though rampant, was small after all!

The Congress’ stunning victory in Manipur, and that in Assam last year, has been pulled off by the party’s regional leaders, Tarun Gogoi and Ibobi Singh. This has raised questions whether the Congress should actually stop meddling in states and leave party matters to its regional satraps. People are increasingly beginning to ask if the ‘high command’ should stop dictating things or should stop remote-controlling in matters of ticket distribution and things like that. After all, Uttar Pradesh has proved beyond doubt that Rahul Gandhi has failed miserably despite para-dropping all over UP. Now, Sonia Gandhi is openly saying two things---that the party was weak organizationally in UP and that the selection of candidates was wrong. How can anyone from Delhi (Rahul Gandhi in this case) be expected to set the party’s state organization right.

If the Congress meant business and was serious in making a real dent in India’s largest state that sends more than 80 MPs to Parliament, it could have appointed Rahul Gandhi the Pradesh Congress president in UP and projected him as the Chief Minister. But Congress big-wigs like Digvijaya Singh says Rahul is a ‘national leader’ and was only engaged in providing a spark to the party in UP. If the spark could give the party only four extra seats, compared to its tally in 2007, and the party losing seven seats this time compared to its 2007 tally in Sonia-Rahul pocket borough of Amethi and Rae Bareli, then God help. The moral of the story is simple---decentralize the Congress, back regional leaders and let them fight it out in their domain. Para-dropping from outside can be disastrous, specially during state elections.

Coming back to the Congress sweep in Manipur vis-à-vis an organized attempt by the Meitei insurgents to dislodge the party, the message is simple---the verdict has been a vote against insurgency and violence. It has been a verdict in favour of Indian democracy and the Constitution. After all, the so-called ‘revolutionaries’ in Manipur must realize that the Congress was brought back by the people of Manipur, not by people in Delhi. The best thing they can do now is to open channels of dialogue with Ibobi Singh and his colleagues in the new dispensation in Imphal and through them with New Delhi. Ibobi has already said the new Congress Government in Manipur is willing to talk peace with all insurgent groups. Now, it is clear---the Centre will be in no hurry to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from Manipur, although this is an undemocratic and draconian piece of legislation.

The verdict in Manipur has also been a vote against regionalism and instability. The Manipur People’s Party (MPP), one of the state’s oldest regional parties, did join hands with the NCP and others to form a united front, the People’s Democratic Front (PDF). But, the voters were not enthused. Trinamul Congress became the second largest party, winning seven seats, and that is perhaps because Mamata Banerjee’s success in voting the CPM out of power in West Bengal managed to stir the imagination of some voters in Manipur.

The ball now is in the court of the Congress party in Manipur. The least they can do by way of paying back to the people of Manipur is by not betraying their trust. It will not be enough for Ibobi Singh to keep quiet and let things drift. He must be decisive and act firmly against corruption. The Congress in Manipur must realize that if they have come back to power again, it is largely because of the lack of any viable opposition worth the name.

(courtesy: The Sentinel)