After the political setback in Aruchal Pradesh, the Congress leadership is facing more tight-rope walking in Manipur where dissidence is brewing. With 25 of the 42 Congress legislators in Delhi to press for a reshuffle of the Okram Ibobi Singh-led ministry, the party high command is being abundantly cautious this time. After all, its refusal to give a patient ear to Congress dissidents in Aruchal cost the party dear. The country was treated to the amazing sight of the BJP providing support to a rebel Congress government in Aruchal. New Chief Minister Kalikho Pul and rebel Congress legislators kept insisting that they had merely formed an altertive Congress government with outside support, that things would not have come to such a pass if the party high command had listened to their grievances instead of obstitely seeing nothing beyond bam Tuki. Mercifully, the charade ended with Pul and his supporters merging with the People’s Party of Aruchal to make a clean break with the Tuki-led rump Congress. Like bam Tuki, Manipur Chief Minister Ibobi Singh too has been known to enjoy the total confidence of the Congress high command. Singh has been leading the State for the last 14 years, and the next assembly elections are due in February 2017. It is no surprise that the Congress tiol leadership this time has given a hearing to Manipur Congress dissidents, reportedly advising them ‘not to rock the boat’, but work hard to keep the party in power. The problem is that the dissidents’ demand for ministry reshuffle has little to do with issues of governce. Rather, they are said to be impatient to become ministers themselves, with barely a year left for the polls. So, even as the dissidents profess ‘full confidence’ in Ibobi Singh’s leadership, they are also demanding that some current ministers be dropped and fresh faces inducted.
Some Congress dissidents have even warned of looking for ‘greener pastures’, with the political wind now ostensibly ‘favouring the BJP’ in Manipur. After all, the saffron party did mage to win both the by-elections to the assembly in November last, where it has not had an MLA for last 15 years, apart from opening accounts in the recent civic body elections. However, reshuffling the ministry will be a thorny task for the Congress with some ministers representing important tribal groups. A large bloc of dissidents has trained guns on deputy Chief Minister and State Congress president Gaikhangam Gangmei with the ‘one man one post’ plea. They also accuse Gaikhangam, a ga, of being close to ga groups pushing for ‘integration of ga inhabited areas’ of Manipur with galand. Last month, galand Chief Minister TR Zeliang exacerbated matters by calling for ga unification while on a visit to Manipur to participate in the seed sowing festival of Manipuri gas. The latest rise in tensions between Manipuri and ga groups comes in the backdrop of hills versus plains conflict in Manipur over the inner line permit (ILP) system that has continued to simmer after the violent eruption in August last year. With the Manipur government showing no signs of reviewing the three bills passed by the Assembly, Churachandpur is once again the centre of protests with a joint forum of various tribal groups calling for a shutdown on March 18 next. Their allegation has been that the domint Meiteis, in the guise of blocking outsiders under the ILP system, are themselves keen to take over tribal land in the hills and corner scheduled tribe benefits. What comes across clearly is that the Congress and the BJP leaderships cannot afford to graft their rivalry onto the powder keg that is Manipur. It is a State battling demands for separation of ga-domited districts, as well as a huge trust deficit between indigenous plainsmen and hill tribals, with various extremist groups re-arming to take full advantage of the situation. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s refusal ‘to turn the clock back’ in Aruchal, the mostly peaceful frontier State has been given another chance towards government formation and putting bitter political strife behind. Manipur may not be so fortute; tiol political parties need to display more maturity and foresight there.