Whose call was it to invite Manipur MP Bimol Akoijam to speak at midnight?

A request by Rahul Gandhi that the MP be given ‘two minutes’ to speak before the PM was turned down

Bimol Akoijam called out the PM's and government's silence on Manipur (photo: PTI)
Bimol Akoijam called out the PM's and government's silence on Manipur (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

A professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, first-time Congress MP from Inner Manipur Angomcha Bimol Akoijam was the last to speak in the Lok Sabha on the motion of thanks to the President’s address. Who decided he should be last, and why? While the MP’s short and passionate speech went viral and became a talking point, the mystery of why he was invited to speak at 11.45 pm and given five minutes to speak remains.

The next day, when Congress MP Rahul Gandhi repeatedly requested the Speaker that Outer Manipur Congress MP Alfred Arthur be allowed to speak on Manipur for "two minutes" before Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he was turned down. One MP from Manipur had already spoken, the Speaker argued, and in any case, the Congress had exhausted its allotted time.

Of course, the Speaker could have used his discretion and allowed the MP to speak for a few minutes, or he could have asked the PM if he would mind waiting for a few minutes to listen to the MP. He did neither.

Incensed, opposition MPs from first the North-East and then others kept up a chant of ‘justice for Manipur’ throughout the next two hours and more during the PM's reply. Leaked video footage of the proceedings showed at one point the prime minister offering a glass of water to Opposition MPs protesting and shouting slogans just in front of him.

If the prime minister could offer a glass of water to an MP, why couldn’t he listen to one for a few minutes, wondered Gaurav Gogoi, Congress MP from Assam's Jorhat. It would have been truly magnanimous of the PM had he forfeited a few minutes to hear the other MP from Manipur speak.

Had the situation been normal in Manipur, as the prime minister claimed in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, would the Congress have won both the Lok Sabha seats from the state, Gogoi also asked. Rahul Gandhi, he recalled, had visited Manipur twice and has been talking to everyone from Manipur for the past 14 months.

Being aware of the situation in Manipur, the leader of the Opposition knew that allowing one MP to speak while disallowing the other would send a wrong signal to the people of the state. Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh also pointed out that the BJP and its allies had won a two-third majority in the Manipur Assembly in 2022 but lost the people’s goodwill in just 15 months. Surely, something is wrong?

Akoijam gave voice to the anguish of the people when he lamented that the President’s address to Parliament made no mention of Manipur. As many as 60,000 displaced people have been living in relief camps and in extrekmely difficult conditions for the past 14 months; over 200 people had died, and a civil war-like situation prevails in the small state, and all this was "not a joke".

However, the omission of Manipur from the President’s address and the fact that he was speaking at midnight to a virtually empty Lok Sabha, he said, spoke volumes of the importance the country attached to the state. Are you telling us that we do not matter, he asked and accused the country’s history books of ignoring the history of North-Eastern states.

Akoijam, who defeated Union minister Rajkumar Ranjan Singh in the recent Lok Sabha election, said every inch of Manipur was covered by Central armed forces, yet 60,000 people were rendered homeless and thousands of villages destroyed.

A key criticism of PM Modi has been his failure to replace chief minister N. Biren Singh, his refusal to speak to MPs, ministers and MLAs from the state, his inability to visit the state even once in the last 14 months even as he campaigned around the country, and his enigmatic silence on Manipur.

He had spoken on the state for a few minutes in the Lok Sabha last year when a no-trust motion was moved to force him to speak. After stonewalling the demand to speak on Manipur again in the Lok Sabha on Monday, the PM did speak on Manipur in the Rajya Sabha after the Opposition had walked out in protest against the chairman disallowing leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge to intervene during the PM’s speech.

What the PM said, however, left much to be desired. The Supreme Court had lamented the total breakdown of the Constitution in the state in August 2023, and reiterated this week that it did not trust the Manipur government, Modi claimed that incidences of violence had come down, that 11,000 FIRs had been filed, and over 500 people arrested in the state.

Schools, colleges, offices and other institutions are functioning normally, he claimed. Two teams of the National Disaster Relief Force were currently in the state for relief and rescue operations following the recent floods, he said. Accusing the Opposition of adding fuel to fire and politicising the situation, the PM advised everyone to rise above politics.

Reacting to the PM’s statement, Akoijam felt that the prime minister seemed to be looking for cover. The situation in the state continues to be grim, with Meiteis and Kukis still unable to travel to Churachandpur and Imphal, where they form respective majorities.

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