Is Manipur going the Kashmir way? As dissent against Biren Singh grows, BJP may resort to President's Rule

The in-fighting within BJP in the saffron party-led Manipur government has finally reached its zenith, with nine out of 12 ministers currently camping in Delhi, haggling with the party leadership to be sympathetic to their conflicting demands.

Despite winning only 21 seats in the 60-seated state legislative Assembly, BJP engineered an alliance and succeeded in coming to power on 15 March, 2017, beating the single largest party, Congress, which won 28 seats. The BJP-led government was formed with the support of four MLAs each from NPP and NPF, one each from Congress, LJP, Trinamool and an independent. Later the coalition formation was further strengthened when eight Congress MLAs deflected to the BJP, taking its strength to 39.

Accuding Chief Minister N Biren Singh of operating in a monocratic style and exercising undue favouritism while dealing with the eight Congress turncoats over BJP’s own MLAs, the dissident camp — led by the young turk Thongam Biswajit Singh — is batting for a change in leadership and wants the 27-month-old chief minister removed.

Incidentally, Biswajit Singh is the second ever BJP MLA to book a place in the state Assembly for the party. With Khumukcham Joykishan, the first BJP MLA to enter the Manipur Assembly, switching sides to Congress just before the 2017 election, many observers thought Biswajit Singh could be a natural choice for the party to lead the coalition. The only hurdle that stood in Biswajit's way was that he had no experience in governance as yet as a minister.

 Is Manipur going the Kashmir way? As dissent against Biren Singh grows, BJP may resort to Presidents Rule

File picture of Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh. PTI

Contrary to expectations, despite heavy bargaining, the party thought it wiser to appoint N Biren Singh as the first BJP chief minister of Manipur, considering his experience in governance. Biren had quit Congress in the run-up to the 2017 state election and joined the saffron ranks. As appeasement, Biswajit Singh was given the plumpest portfolios in the Biren Singh ministry.

If the BJP central leadership wanted to axe the incumbent chief minister, any decision to this effect is not going to be an easy one. To Biren’s credit, right from day one, his government was put on mission mode, first addressing the deep communal divide between the hills and valley and successfully lifting unprecedented economic blockade which strangulated the landlocked state for over 100 days.

To make the governance people-centric, innovations like ‘People’s Day’, ‘Go to Hills’, ‘Go to Village’, ‘Better Government Schools’ ‘No Child left behind’, 'Green Manipur Campaign' are what were instrumental in earning the title 'the people’s CM'. The fact that Biren was adjudged the third best chief minister in the country by a recent survey conducted by India Today is likely to be a formidable challenge for an adverse decision against him.

Meanwhile, seizing the opportunity of an RBI ban on all state government transaction in the aftermath of a huge overdraft of Rs 247 crores, Biren Singh took the two plump departments – public works and power – from minister Biswajit Singh’s portfolio, pulling up the dissident leader for violating the election model code of conduct by withdrawing huge amount of cash during the Lok Sabha election. Further, the chief minister had also penalised the deputy chief minister, Yumnam Joykumar, by removing the all-important finance ministry from him, indirectly indicating the deputy chief minister of colluding with Biswajit.

In a significant development in the power in-fighting, Manipur Assembly Speaker Yumnam Khemchand has also rushed to Delhi after he was summoned by party leaders. In the event of central leadership opting to drop Biren, Khemchand’s name figures in the favourable list of probable chief ministers with his strong RSS credentials. Besides Khemchand, another young turk, Thokchom Radheshyam Singh, a former IPS officer, who debuted in politics in 2001 on a BJP ticket and won, is another name doing the rounds for replacing Biren. Manipur governor Dr Najma Heptulla, before going on leave of absence, is reported to have recommended Radheshyam’s name in the event of a leadership change.

Political analysts observed that the infighting is likely to be resolved in another day or two. However, if amicability is not struck within the timeline, the BJP may opt for going the Kashmir way by keeping the state legislative Assembly in animated suspension and clamping President’s Rule until a mid-term poll to vie for the major BJP government in the state.

For Biren, despite his tremendous track record of achieving targets in terms of tackling the myriads problems plaguing Manipur, the power crisis has literally besieged on the functioning of his government.

On two occasions, the desperate attempts by the chief minister to negotiate a settlement have failed, with most of the BJP MLAs choosing not to attend the meeting called by the chief minister.

Only 6 MLAs, including the chief minister, attended a crucial meeting called by Biren to hear grievances of the dissidents to resolve the on-going crisis within the party. Earlier on Wednesday, the chief minister had to postpone the meeting of the BJP MLAs, including the eight Congress turncoats and ministers of the coalition government. Reportedly, out of the 39 MLAs, including the ministers and Congress turncoats, only nine showed up for the meeting, forcing the chief minister to reschedule it to the next day.

Following the continued canvassing in Delhi by the dissident camp, Biren has also left for Delhi on Friday, with few of his cabinet ministers ready to appraise the central leadership on the power crisis. He is likely to urge the party leaders to take a concrete measure to resolve the issue.

Updated Date: Jun 29, 2019 20:05:02 IST