'Constitutional Crisis?': No Nod From Governor, No Special Session for Manipur Assembly

With the Biren Singh cabinet’s recommendation having failed to secure governor Anusuiya Uikey's approval, the question arises as to whether the governor can choose to not comply with such a recommendation from a cabinet headed by a CM.

New Delhi: A special session of the Manipur assembly recommended by the cabinet for August 21 to discuss the ongoing turmoil in the northeastern state could not take place today due to the state government’s failure to get a nod from the governor Anusuiya Uikey.

Reacting to it, the opposition Congress which has also been demanding that the governor call a session of the assembly along with several other national parties to discuss the Manipur ethnic conflict, said the failure of the governor to summon the session “can lead to a constitutional crisis” in the border state.

A day ago, on August 20, former chief minister and Congress leader Okram Ibobi Singh, speaking at the party office in Imphal, had said, “It looks like the demand (for the session) has fallen on deaf ears and chances of the much-awaited assembly sitting seem slim at this point.” 

Ibobi Singh called it the ‘Monsoon Session’ of the assembly, and therefore implied that this was a scheduled session which should have taken place after the March session. “The governor is supposed to call the summon 15 days before the actual sitting since the state assembly prorogue had already been conducted but no such actions have been meted out from the governor till now,” an Imphal Free Press report said quoting Singh. According to the news report, the Congress leader said, “At this crucial juncture of the state and the people, it is better to avoid such potential constitutional breakdown.”

With the cabinet’s recommendation having failed to secure the governor’s approval, the question arises under what circumstances the governor may not comply with such a recommendation from the cabinet headed by the chief minister.

In 2016, in the judgment of the Nabam Rebia case, a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had stated that when the chief minister has a majority in the House, the governor is to summon the House with the aid and advice of the chief minister and his cabinet.

Significantly, in the 60-member house, while 10 MLAs from the Kuki community had refused to attend the session citing their safety in Imphal, 10 others from the Naga community were also asked by the apex body of the Nagas in Manipur, the United Naga Council (UNC), to stay away from it.

Also read: Manipur’s 8 Naga MLAs Back CM Biren Singh’s Move Against Kukis’ Separate Administration Demand

Among the 40 other legislators from the valley, a sizeable lot are from the BJP’s rebel camp which has been demanding a leadership change prior to the May 3 violence. Those rebel MLAs were not signatory to a recent memorandum submitted to prime minister Narendra Modi by 40 MLAs from the state urging him to maintain the territorial integrity of Manipur. Among the 40 MLAs were eight Naga MLAs from BJP’s allies in the state – the Naga People’s Front and Nationalist People’s Party.  

On July 27, the N. Biren Singh government had announced that the cabinet had recommended an assembly session and the request had been forwarded to the governor’s office. State information and public relations minister Sapam Ranjan said in a statement issued to local press that the cabinet had asked for the session to be held on the third week of August. On August 4, the state government formally asked the governor to convene the session on August 21.

While former BJP ally, the Kuki People’s Alliance (KPA), refused to take part in the session (it has two MLAs) accusing the state government of organising it at the behest of the powerful civil society body from the Meitei community, the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), the UNC too cited the same reason for asking MLAS from the Naga community to avoid it. 

Since late July, COCOMI had been seeking a special session of the assembly and had adopted August 5 as the deadline for it to the state government at a public rally in Imphal on July 29. COCOMI had been seeking a resolution in the assembly to maintain the territorial integrity of the state in the wake of Kuki MLAs demanding a separate state or a Union Territory for the community. On August 7, a delegation of COCOMI submitted a memorandum at the Prime Minister’s Office, seeking a special session. COCOMI spokesperson Kh. Athouba had told The Wire then that the demand for the session had been raised by them because they had not “seen any initiative from the legislators or the state government to discuss the Manipur issue on the floor of the House.”

“The assembly is not dissolved, so it must assemble to deliberate on what is going on in the state, including discussing the demand for a separate administration from a set of MLAs. For instance, the 10 MLAs belonging to the Kuki community have stated their individual positions on the matter which should be stated also on the floor of the House. There are outside forces acting in the state; people are asking, where is the assembly?” he said.   

The Wire failed to reach the COCOMI spokesperson on the August 21 session not taking off as planned by the state cabinet. Thus far, COCOMI has maintained silence on the matter.