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#1438, 17 July 2004
 
The 91st Constitutional Amendment and the NE States
Bibhu Prasad Routray
Institute for Conflict Management
 

The 91st constitutional amendment, passed in 2003, that requires restricting the size of the ministry to 15 per cent of the total size of the State legislative assemblies, has created a political upheaval in some of the north-eastern States. Whereas Chief Ministers of Tripura and Mizoram had a relatively peaceful time in limiting the size of their ministries, other States have witnessed political bickering among the elected representatives over retaining ministerial berths.

 

The worst drama is currently taking place in the state of Arunachal Pradesh where a number of former ministers have switched parties to express their anger against being removed from the list of ministers. This was expected in a State where 40 members of legislative assembly (MLAs) belonging to the Congress party had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) overnight in August 2003, thereby creating the first BJP government in the region. As a means to keep this mobile stock together, all of them were given ministerial posts. However, the mandatory ministry downsizing removed the basis of their unity. In addition, with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government coming to power at the Centre and the impending State polls in October 2004, aligning with the BJP made little political sense. A political drama is being witnessed in the state over the imposition of the President’s Rule, with one group swearing by the Governor’s first report, which recommended the Assembly’s dissolution, and the other group seeking to revoke the Assembly’s dissolution citing the Governor’s second report, which says that the first report was made under duress.

 

In Assam, the Chief Minister had to remove 16 of his ministers to bring the size of the cabinet down to the required level. As the Chief Minister camped in Delhi to seek the Congress high command’s approval of his list of ministers, many of his colleagues accompanied him in a last ditch effort to avoid being dropped. The removal of several senior cabinet ministers from the final list, however, incited their supporters to call for general strikes and other disruptive agitations. At one point, the Chief Minister had to issue an order to put a halt to such demonstrations. However, at the same time, he made a commitment not only to absorb the removed ministers as heads of various State government undertakings or in the party set up, but also to effect ministerial reshuffling regularly to keep the entire flock happy. However, the move is yet to pacify the aggrieved MLAs.

 

On the other hand, the Meghalaya Chief Minister D D Lapang, heading the coalition Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA) has managed to pacify his former ministerial colleagues by appointing all of them either as chiefs of various state government undertakings or as parliamentary secretaries. In the process, the State has 15 new parliamentary secretaries and 11 new chairmen of different undertakings. 

 

In Manipur, the downsizing led to a deep resentment in the two Naga-dominated districts of Chandel and Ukhrul, both of which have not been represented in the new-look Okram Ibobi Singh-led Secular Progressive Front (SPF) government. Here too the Meghalaya formula is being applied as both Aza and Korungthang, the former ministers form these districts have been appointed as chairpersons of the Khadi and Village Industries Board and the Manipur Tribal Development Corporation respectively. Equally rewarding appointments have been bestowed on all the former ministers, who, by virtue of their record have developed a ‘right of sorts’ to hold on to some official position.

 

In Nagaland, the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) has left the coalition Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) due to the removal of two of its MLAs: Kushka Sumi and Deo Nukhu from the cabinet. Even though the DAN government does not face a threat as a result of their withdrawal, it did have to face angry outbursts from its coalition partners. The BJP too has been displeased with the Chief Minister’s decision to remove its ministers and the change in portfolio of its MLA T M Lotha from the Home Department to the Agriculture Department.  

 

No doubt this is a temporary phenomenon, and once the dust settles down, squabbles over ministries would be a thing of the past. However, what would remain in public memory is the gluttonous struggle for a slice of power among their representatives. More importantly, it is apparent that such hankering for power has defeated the very purpose of the amendment, which sought to limit governmental expenditure. The appointment of chairmen and parliamentary secretaries with ministerial ranks will continue to drain the state exchequers. And for the state economies, which, in the absence of internal resource mobilisation are completely dependant on central grant, these developments could not have been worse.

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