Given what transpired on Tuesday, it is difficult not to term the functioning of the government and the legislature in conflict-ridden Manipur a farce being played out in the State. The Assembly met just before the stipulated six months after the last session on March 3. Article 174(1) of the Constitution mandates that sittings have to take place within six months of the end of the previous session. Incomprehensibly, the session was adjourned sine die just 48 minutes after it began; there was barely 11 minutes of business with 10 MLAs of the Kuki-Zo community also absent. Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had reportedly invited the absentee Kuki MLAs to the House, by guaranteeing their security, but they denied having spoken to him and refused to buy the guarantee by pointing to the law and order situation in the Imphal valley. This reiterates the breakdown of trust between legislators of one community and the government’s leadership despite a sharing of party affiliations. The session was originally set to convene on August 21, but the Governor, Anusuiya Uikey, had, inexplicably, not issued the notification summoning the House, despite the Cabinet’s advice to her on August 4. That legislative functions have been so poorly conducted when there are pressing issues related to the rehabilitation of displaced residents, the recovery of looted weapons, the persisting ethnic divide leading up to “economic blockades” and the sporadic violence, indicate the failure of a government that commands an electoral majority in the House.
The Manipur Assembly is no stranger to controversy. In its previous iteration, little heed was paid to parliamentary conventions, as it was marked by rampant defections, exemplified by the case of Congress MLA T. Shyamkumar, who became a Minister in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government and later stripped of his office by the Supreme Court which had lost patience with the Speaker’s inaction after his blatant violation of the anti-defection law. This time around, the BJP regime suffers a severe legitimacy deficit — in its inability to bring about a turnaround in the deterioration of ethnic relations following the May 3 violence and to conduct proper legislative sessions to at least discuss a way out. Ethnic conflicts present complex problems, but the use of constitutional means is a must to enable workable solutions. As things stand, the two sparring communities in the State are veering towards positions that are becoming even more intractable as the government continues to flounder. The BJP is mistaken if it continues to believe that its ham-handed approach to retain the status quo in leadership will yield a breakthrough in the State.