INDIA coalition looking at sending delegation of CMs, MPs to Manipur
The logjam in Parliament between the Centre and the Opposition’s 26-party Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s refusal to make a statement in the House on the continuing ethnic violence in Manipur is set to intensify further.
With the Centre unwilling to concede a united Opposition demand for suspending Parliament’s business for a day to discuss Manipur, The Federal has learnt that constituents of the INDIA coalition could soon dispatch their senior leaders to the strife-torn northeastern state on a “solidarity visit”.
The visit, details of which are still being worked out, would also double up as a fact-finding mission to “expose the BJP-led Biren Singh government’s complicity in the ethnic violence unleashed against the Kukis by sections of the Meitei tribe and reveal how the Centre turned a blind eye to the pre-planned violence that has now continued unabated for over 80 days”, a senior MP from one of the INDIA coalition parties said.
Sources told The Federal that the combined leadership of the INDIA coalition is deliberating whether there should be one visit of joint opposition parties or multiple visits of parliamentarians and chief ministers of states where constituents from the umbrella opposition alliance are in power.
“At present, there are two options on the table – either a delegation of CMs from our alliance visits Manipur or we select a bigger delegation constituting senior MPs from the 26 parties that are part of our alliance. It is clear that the situation in Manipur has been allowed to escalate by the BJP government in the state as well as at the Centre. As the opposition, it is not only our job to expose those responsible for the reprehensible acts being committed in Manipur but also to provide succour to victims of the violence,” said a Congress MP privy to the discussions.
Sources said that though sending a delegation of INDIA coalition CMs, such as Mamata Banerjee, MK Stalin, Nitish Kumar, Siddaramaiah, Bhupesh Baghel, Ashok Gehlot, Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu and Hemant Soren, would send a very strong message by the opposition, it could also be twisted by the BJP to spin a narrative of CMs of opposition-ruled states interfering in matters of a state ruled by the saffron party.
The move, said an opposition leader, could also set off a competitive and acrimonious face-off among CMs of the BJP and the INDIA coalition as the saffron party could, in a tit-for-tat move, instruct its CMs to make a beeline for opposition-ruled states each time an incident of caste, gender or community related crime comes to light.
The INDIA coalition leadership is also mulling whether its constituent parties should use their combined pan-India political clout to call for a nationwide bandh in solidarity with victims of Manipur and to protest against the Prime Minister’s silence on the situation.
Taking on Centre
Additionally, in states where they are in power, INDIA constituents are also likely to have resolutions passed in the respective assemblies condemning the violence in Manipur and the lapses on the part of the Manipur and Union government in containing it. The first such resolution has already been passed by the Rajasthan Assembly, where the Congress is in a majority.
Some constituents of the Opposition alliance, particularly those from the Left Front parties, also wish to send their individual teams to Manipur to assess the cause and extent of violence that has reportedly claimed over 100 lives from among the warring Kuki and Meitei tribes.
On June 29, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, accompanied by his party colleagues, visited Imphal and violence-hit Churachandpur to meet victims of the ethnic violence. Earlier, on May 17, weeks after reports of violence between the Kuki and Meithei people first surfaced, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge dispatched a fact-finding team of his party colleagues, headed by senior leader Mukul Wasnik, to Manipur.
Later, the Trinamool Congress sent a five-member fact-finding team to Manipur.
Congress general secretary Ajoy Kumar, who was part of his party’s fact-finding team, told The Federal that he and his party colleagues had submitted a detailed report to Kharge which “exposed the complicity of the Biren Singh government in the violence, the complete collapse of law and order in the state and gave details of how the situation was allowed to spiral out of control due to the BJP’s petty political agenda”.
Kumar said though the situation in Manipur had “only worsened” since the Congress fact-finding team’s last visit to the state, issues red-flagged by them in their report to Kharge remained the same and his party’s MPs “want to raise these in Parliament but can’t until the government agrees to have a nuanced discussion, starting with a statement by the Prime Minister, in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
The Centre, meanwhile, has been claiming that it is the Opposition that is running away from a discussion on Manipur because such a debate will “expose the double-standards” on atrocities against women, tribals and Dalits in states ruled by of members of the INDIA coalition.
The Centre’s assertion, however, seeks to conceal two key aspects; which the opposition sees as being consistent with the “BJP’s favoured practice of seeking refuge in diversion, distraction and obfuscation when cornered”, said Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ranjeet Ranjan.
“Contrary to home minister Amit Shah, Piyush Goyal (Leader of the House, Rajya Sabha) and (parliamentary affairs minister) Pralhad Patel’s claim that the opposition isn’t willing to participate in a debate on Manipur despite the government having agreed to have the discussion, fact is that the opposition is united in its demand that Manipur requires a full day’s discussion in both Houses while the government wants to wrap it up in a short duration discussion of an hour or two,” Ranjan told The Federal.
PM must speak
Ranjan’s party colleague, Lok Sabha MP Gaurav Gogoi, said: “We are demanding that the PM has to first make a statement on the floor of both Houses of Parliament because his 30-second sound byte to the media outside doesn’t absolve him of his accountability to Parliament and the country.”
Gogoi added: “There is absolutely no comparison between what is happening in Manipur and the unfortunate and condemnable crimes that have happened against Dalits, tribals or women in other states… What you see in Manipur is wide-scale ethnic violence that has gone on for over two months with the government’s backing to one of the groups indulging in the violence; the death toll has crossed 100, the CM is on record saying hundreds of instances of sexual violence against women have happened, thousands from the state are fleeing to Mizoram for refuge… whereas in the stray incidents from opposition-ruled states that the BJP is talking up; the state governments have neither abetted the crimes nor tried to cover them up… each of these crimes is being investigated, in cases being talked about by the BJP regarding Rajasthan or Chhattisgarh, prompt arrests were made and in the Rajasthan incident the accused were members of the ABVP (the RSS student wing).”
Another INDIA coalition MP told The Federal that the alliance needs to “think out of the box” to highlight the Manipur crisis before the country because “our attempts to do so by forcing a debate in Parliament is being derailed not only by the Centre but also the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.”
The MP cited Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar’s decision of acceding to Piyush Goyal’s resolution on Monday (July 25) for suspending Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Sanjay Singh from the House for the remainder of the Monsoon Session “only because he (Singh) was demanding, like the rest of the opposition, that business of the House should be suspended to allow a discussion on Manipur and the PM must make a statement on the issue on the floor of the House”.
Sanjay Singh’s suspension has created further discord between the Rajya Sabha Chairman and the government, on one side, and the INDIA coalition MPs, on the other. Opposition MPs regrouped for a sit-in protest in the Parliament complex to protest against Sanjay Singh’s suspension, the PM’s deafening silence and the Centre’s strident refusal for a threadbare discussion on the Manipur crisis that is now threatening to spill over to Mizoram, a state which incidentally goes to polls at the end of this year.
An RJD MP also claimed that there was a thinly veiled attempt by the presiding officers of both Houses of Parliament, particularly Dhankhar, to “lend support to the BJP’s shameful attempt at putting the Manipur situation and the incidents of alleged political violence in Bengal or crimes against women and different castes/communities in opposition-ruled states”.
The RJD MP said that members of the INDIA coalition hold further discussions, steered by Rajya Sabha’s Leader of opposition and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, over the next two days to finalise their further plan of action for highlighting the Manipur situation.