Crossing the Bengal frontier

Would it be politically prudent to read too much into the result of the by election to the Konthoujam Assembly Constituency for which result was declared on February 17 or would it be imprudent or a sign of political naivety to brush aside the result as of no consequences as the loss of one seat is not going to make much of a difference to the Congress ? These are speculative questions at its best and speculative questions are best left unheeded or unheard but the political instinct in mankind is such, we can expect all political parties, including the Congress harping on the result of the by election, which was necessitated following the demise of Sapam Dr Budhichandra, the then MLA from this Constituency who was also the Speaker of the House. To come a little more closer to the answer of the question that we have raised as the opening sentence of this commentary, a look at the circumstances under which the by election was held is necessary. Konthoujam Assembly Constituency is not exactly known as a bastion of the Congress and in fact, the immediate predeccesor of the late Budhichandra, the MP from the Inner Parliamentary Constituency, Dr T Meinya, was not elected on a Congress ticket but was a candidate of the DRPP in the election to the 7th Assembly. It was only after he got elected that he turned a Congman. It was then that Konthoujam Assembly Constituency converted to the Congress and in the subsequent elections that followed, it has been the Congress all the way. Today the script has been turned on its head, and instead of a Congress man representing Konthoujam AC, it will be a man from the Trinamool Congress. The ongoing 9th Assembly has seen four by elections, Khundrakpam, Moirang, Yaiskul and Konthoujam. The earlier three by-elections ran according to the expected script, with the Congress candidates romping home comfortably in all the three said Constituencies, but Kon-thoujam turned out to be a different ball game altogether. The result is also significant in the sense that the Trinamool Congress has made its debut in the Manipur State Assembly and perhaps Manipur is the only State outside of West Bengal where the party has a people’s representative. So is the latest result some sort of a referendum on the performance of Chief Minister O Ibobi or is it a case of the Congress backing the wrong horse ? Whichever way one looks at it, the Konthoujam by election is a departure from the earlier scripts when the Congress had seemed invincible since the 7th Assembly, decimating all its opponents to smithereens. To the elected MLA, Konthoujam Sarat, the party on which ticket he was contesting the polls may not have mattered much, but to the Trinamool Congress, it means a promising start, with the 10th Assembly election scheduled some time in 2012. Mamata Banerjee’s resilience and touch with the Aam Admi has certainly crossed the frontier of West Bengal, and strictly speaking from an objective point of view, Bengal in one way or the other has always been a part of Manipur’s history especially after the Sanskritisation process was set in motion with the mass conversion to Hinduism, courtesy Shanti Das. The bandh culture that ties the peoples of the two States is an apt example. 

In politics, as in life, nothing is certain, except the fact that in life all mortal beings will one day die while in politics, logical conclusions based on scientific studies make the anti-incumbency factor indispensable. This is apart from the characteristics of a democracy, such as the people having the right to choose who should represent them. It would be presumptuous on the part of the fourth estate to even entertain the idea that its decision to boycott all Government related news, in particular, anything to do with the Home Department, was a factor that led to the defeat of the Congress candidate. However we must not forget that publicity and propaganda are some of the most important tools  during an election. Far from dissecting what went wrong with the Congress, we feel it would be more fruitful to study how major political parties such as the MPP and the BJP managed to read the situation right and back a winner. For the CPM, it was some sort of a political misadventure in supporting the Independent candidate who came a distant third in the three way contest. It is not so much about the defeat of a Congress candidate, but what it portends for the party in the near future, caught as it is in numerous scandals starting from the Commonwealth Games fiasco to the 2G Spectrum and others.  The SPF Government too has been targeted and pilloried for a number of reasons ranging from State sponsored killings to percentage cuts. Remember the mass uprising after the July 23 incident at BT Road in 2009 ? Yet despite all these including the recent set back, there may not be much to look forward to, for the major Opposition parties have shown that they are on their last leg, if not already on their way to the grave yard. The failure of the MPP, the BJP and others to nominate their candidates  in the Yaiskul by election as well as in Konthoujam is politically very significant. The irony of the situation is not lost on us. The days of the one party rule is over and the importance of the regional parties have been increasing with each passing year. So it follows that the emergence of provincial satraps such as Karunakaran or a Jayalalitha, a Mamata Banerjee or a Mayawati is nothing but a natural fall out of the political compulsions of the day and it in such a political climate that the MPP, the oldest regional political party in Manipur and the North East, should find itself slowly sinking into the quicksand of political oblivion.