Even as the four MLAs of National People’s Party (NPP) have returned to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led unnamed coalition government on June 25 by reversing their own decision which is not even 10 days old, the BJP trouble is still not over.
The return of four NPP MLAs as Cabinet Ministers again appears to have triggered a fresh crisis for Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren with another regional ally Naga People’s Front (NPF) which has the same strength as NPP in the coalition, defectors from the Congress and some of his own party MLAs now demanding their pound of flesh.
NPF President Awangbou Newmai told media persons on June 25 that they have been coalition partner in the interest of people and development of the State without claiming ministerial berths as done by NPP. “We can also claim the ministerial berths”, added Awangbou.
In a new development, the BJP MLAs and Congress defectors who have been camping at Classic Grande raised uproar in the evening of June 25 on hearing the news that the four NPP MLAS have returned to the BJP-led unnamed coalition government as Cabinet Ministers.
On arrival at Imphal airport together with the four MLAs, NPP President and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said, “We had a meeting yesterday (June 24) with BJP president JP Nadda and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. We expressed our grievances and concerns that we were having as a political party in this alliance. We expressed everything in details and both understood what the problem is. They assured us that all issues will be addressed and taken care of. They will personally look into these issues. As such, we have decided to withdraw the resignations and the NPP will continue to support the BJP-led Government.”
However, reports said that the Chief Minister earlier assured the BJP MLAs that only two NPP MLAs would be given Ministerial berths even if all four of them come back. As such, the BJP MLAs were hoping that at least two of them would get ministerial berths.
On learning about the uproar, Nongthombam Biren went to Classic Grande and tried to pacify the agitated BJP MLAs as well as those who had defected from the Congress apart from briefing them about the meeting held between BJP National leaders and NPP MLAs. These MLAs were unhappy with the “interference” of NEDA and others in Manipur politics.
Notably, the political drama started on June 17, just two days before the election for the lone Rajya Sabha seat from Manipur, which was rescheduled on June 19 after deferment from March 26 due to COVID-19 lockdown. The BJP had fielded the titular king Leishemba Sanajaoba while former MLA Tongbram Mangibabu was the Congress candidate for the seat.
The political high drama folded out in public with the withdrawal of support to BJP-led Nongthombam Biren’s government by four ministers and five MLAs. The four ministers were the then Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar, Langpoklakpam Jayantakumar, N Kayisii and Letpao Haokip – all four are the MLAs of the NPP, the pivotal party of the coalition government. Three BJP MLAs, who did not get ministerial berth in Biren’s government namely, TT Haokip, S. Subhashchandra and Samuel Jendai criticising Biren’s leadership submitted their resignations to the Manipur Assembly Speaker and joined the Congress. The other two MLAs who withdrew support to Nongthombam Biren’s government were All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC) MLA Tongbram Robindro and one independent MLA Ashab Uddin.
Moreover, four of the seven Congress MLAs defected to the ruling BJP and their disqualification case was in the Speaker’s Tribunal had returned to the Congress fold thereby reducing the BJP-led Nongthombam Biren’s government to minority. The four MLAs who returned to the Congress were Y Surchandra, Ksh Biren, Sanasam Bira and Paonam Brojen.
Since one defector Congress MLA and minister in Biren’s Government had been disqualified, and three BJP MLAs resigned and the Speaker had accepted, the effective strength of the House was 56 till June 18 where BJP’s actual tally was only 26 MLAs while Congress had the support of 30 MLAs forming a coalition Secular Progressive Front (SPF).
On the other hand, days before the election, the BJP had received a major setback when the High Court of Manipur on June 9 restrained the seven Congress MLAs, who defected to the BJP, from entering the Assembly till Speaker Yumnam Khemchand finally disposed of the pending anti-defection cases against them.
However, the BJP ruling both the Union Government and the State managed to win the Rajya Sabha election by whatsoever means available to them irrespective of ethical or non-ethical.
Just before the elections on June 19, the Speaker Yumnam Khemchand took drastic decisions disqualifying four MLAs who would have voted for the Congress candidate making ways for BJP’s success. The night just before the Rajya Sabha election, the Speaker disqualified the lone AITMC MLA, Tongbram Robindro who was with the Congress without even issuing notice to him and deprived him of his right to cast vote.
The Speaker disqualified the three of the four Congress MLAs who earlier supported to BJP but had returned to the Congress fold while allowing the other three, still with BJP, to vote in the Rajya Sabha election. The three of the four who had been disqualified were namely, Y Surchandra, Ksh Biren and Sanasam Bira. But Paonam Brojen who returned with the three was not disqualified keeping his case pending. The Speaker’s decision brought down the Congress tally to 26 from 30, at par with BJP, in a house now reduced to 52 members. The Congress is now contemplating legal action to challenge.
At this crucial juncture, Congress MLA Rajkumar Imo whose father R K Jaychandra was a Union Minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet and his family has been a staunch loyalist of Gandhi family entered into the drama. But Imo also has another identity-he is the son-in-law of Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren. Yet, he had remained loyal to the Congress for the last three years even though his father-in-law is the BJP Chief Minister.
His detractors claimed he enjoyed the best of both worlds – the privilege and power of the CM’s son-in-law and prominence in Congress for proven loyalty. But when his father-in-law’s position as CM was at stake, Imo had to make a choice between party and family and he opted for the latter.
In the Rajya Sabha election, he openly went against Congress and voted for the BJP candidate. It is also said that he persuaded another Congress MLA Okram Henry to do the same. Incidentally, Henry is the nephew of Congress leader and former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi.
What made the switch more rewarding, according to reliable sources, was a phone call from Himanta with a promise of ministerial berth as soon as possible. That is how the BJP candidate Leishemba Sanajaoba won the Rajya Sabha election getting 28 votes while his Congress rival Tongbram Mangibabu got 24 votes.
But the crisis was not over yet. Two days after the poll, North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor and Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and NPP president Conrad Sangma who is also the Chief Minister of Meghalaya took a chartered flight tactically to Imphal.
As the political crisis was going out of hand, they came to Imphal twice and made all efforts to save the BJP-led government by bringing back the NPP MLAs within the fold of the BJP-led unnamed coalition.
As they could not break the ice, Himanta and Conrad took the four NPP MLAs to Guwahati in a chartered flight in the evening of June 23 where BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav was already there. But they could not succeed without taking them to Delhi.
Subsequently, Himanta and Conrad along with the four NPP MLAs proceeded to Delhi by the special chartered flight. On June 24 evening, they met Union Home Minister and BJP leader Amit Shah and BJP National President J P Nadda and held talks between them.
Soon after coming back to Imphal on June 25 from Delhi where they were persuaded by Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP National president JP Nadda, the NPP MLAs submitted a letter to the Governor expressing their renewed support to the BJP-led Government.
In another twist, Independent MLA from Jiribam, Ashab Uddin and Congress MLA Paonam Brojen one of the four Congress MLAs who was not disqualified just prior to the Rajya Sabha election on June 19 previously backed the BJP switched side to the Congress just a few days back is said to have now gone back to BJP fold.
It may be mentioned that the four NPP MLAs’ basic demand or condition for rejoining the coalition was replacement of Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren. NPP MLA L Jayantakumar went on record saying their resolve to sever ties with Nongthombam Biren led BJP Government was non-negotiable. But there is no indication so far of replacing the incumbent Chief Minister.
Remarkably, in another development Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on June 26 while inaugurating a Parking Lot over Naga River in Khwairamband Bazar said that the allocation of portfolios to four ministers from NPP will be done only after consultation with the Central leaders.
Arrangement will be made to go to Delhi for consultation about the portfolios. But he does not get any information to come to Delhi till date, Biren added.
Meanwhile, the Congress having 24 members technically in the House does not give up its fight for justice against the “sinister” actions of the BJP to win the Rajya Sabha election and continue the government by hook or crook.
Now, the return of the four NPP MLAs to BJP-led unnamed coalition government as cabinet ministers has shattered the hope for ministerial berths of the BJP MLAs as well as those who had defected from the Congress. And the political crisis continues within and without the BJP.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics