Confident Congress stakes claim to form new Manipur govt under ex-CM Okram Ibobi Singh, but BJP readies for fight
The Manipur Congress is set to make a comeback under former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
The Congress is hoping to transform its fortunes in Manipur where it emerged as the single-largest party with 28 MLAs in the 2017 Assembly election but was unable to form the government.
The Grand Old Party suffered a blow in 2017 after Manipur governor Najma Heptullah had invited the BJP to stake its claim and form the government, but it seems that the state Congress is now set to make a comeback under former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
On Thursday, Congress leaders and their ‘like-minded’ partners marched to the Raj Bhawan in Imphal and met the governor to stake a claim and form the Secular Progressive Front (SPF) government. They also requested a special Assembly session for a trust vote, insisting they had the numbers.
“We met the governor around 3.30 pm today along with like-minded parties, including National People’s Party (NPP), and requested a special Assembly session for our vote of no-confidence motion against the BJP-led government,” said Manipur Congress spokesperson Ningombam Bupenda Meitei, who termed it a ‘historic moment’ marking the 19th Great June Uprising Day when 18 persons laid down their lives protecting the territorial integrity of Manipur.
On Wednesday, nine MLAs, including three BJP legislators, resigned to join the Congress. Four legislators from the National People’s Party (NPP) including three ministers — Health and Family Welfare Minister L Jayantakumar Singh, deputy chief minister Yumnam Joykumar Singh, YAS minister Letpao Haokip and tribal affairs minister N Kayisii — withdrew support to the BJP-led government.
The former deputy chief minister officially announced his resignation citing disrespectful treatment to legislators, and in view of the Assembly elections in 2022. The lone Independent MLA from Jiribam and Trinamool Congress MLA also expressed support to the Congress.
In the 60-member Assembly, the Congress now has 20 MLAs, and the strength of BJP has been reduced to 18 with the Speaker accepting the resignation of the three BJP MLAs. While another Congress MLA and former minister Thounaojam Shyamkumar had been disqualified earlier for defecting to the BJP, seven Congress defectors are barred from entering the House by the High Court of Manipur. That reduces the legitimate strength of the House to 49.
The present BJP-led coalition government has 23 MLAs, 22 including the Speaker, four from the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and one from Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The ‘SPF’ has 26 MLAs, including 20 Congress, four NPP, a Trinamool Congress and an Independent MLA.
Earlier on Thursday night, Congress MLA K Meghachandra, along with 12 other MLAs including NPP legislators, submitted a notice to Manipur Legislative Assembly Secretary for the removal of Speaker Yumnam Khemchand under Article 179 (C) of the Constitution of India. The move is seen as a deliberate attempt to render the Speaker incapable of disqualifying the seven defectors who await his decision in the removal of pending anti-defection cases against them.
Meghachandra stated that the Speaker was to have taken a decision regarding the disqualification of the seven MLAs on 22 June, but the matter was advanced to 18 June after the political drama on Wednesday night.
The court ruled that while no time period was indicated by the Speaker when the writ petitions were listed in court on 16 June, they were rescheduled all of a sudden on 18 June. The court further observed that since no reason was disclosed for the sudden rescheduling of petitions, it appeared to be “prima facie unfair and unreasonable.”
The Manipur High Court on Thursday directed that “in order to avoid further complicacy in the disposal of petitions pending before the Speaker” the judgment that is reserved to be pronounced by him on 18 June shall be kept in abeyance till Friday.
If the Speaker’s Tribunal rules in favour of the seven Congress MLAs, the effective strength of the House would rise to 56 and the SPF will have 33 MLAs while the BJP will remain with 23.
Meanwhile, the Congress is also confident of winning the Rajya Sabha elections Friday by defeating Manipur’s titular king Leishemba Sanajaoba to the lone Rajya Sabha seat.
However, with complications arising, political pundits have predicted President’s Rule for Manipur, observing that the Congress might find itself in the same place where it was left in 2017. Meitei chose to play down the tension stating “we will then go to Supreme Court immediately.”
The Congress had decided to hold elections for the new party president on 23 June after a section of leaders had last year pressed for an organisational overhaul
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