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Behind Rice Controversy in Manipur is Also The Relentless Push by BJP MLAs For Accommodation in Ministry

[avatar user=”Sunzu Bachaspatimayum” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file” target=”_blank”]SUNZU BACHASPATIMAYUM[/avatar]

Past and recent incidents have fittingly established that rice is an ultra-sensitive commodity in Manipur, a state which ranks among the top most violent as well as corrupt States of India.

As if precious lesson has not been learnt from the British who faced the wrath of the Manipuri women when it colluded with the non-local traders back in 1939 to export Manipuri rice and created an artificial scarcity in the state, the BJP-led coalition government of N. Biren Singh is reeling under a similar circumstance.

While Chief Minister, N Biren Singh’s leadership within the BJP’s legislative party has always been contested by rivals within the party right from the word go of his government in 2017, resulting in several attempts to affect a change of leadership, his loudly declared pro-people policies have thus far been able to stand him on firm grounds.

Over and above the 21 legislators of his own party, the seven Congress MLAs who he had managed to rub in on his side, are all waiting ‘in the wings’ to become ministers. While one out of the four Naga People’s Front, NPF legislators, supporting his coalition government is made a minister, the remaining three NPF legislators are also vying for ministerial berths. To the envy of all, especially of the BJP legislators, the National People’s Party, NPP who had won just four seats in the 11thManipur Legislative Assembly are all ministers.

This formation was made necessary because the BJP had to win the support of all non-Congress MLAs in the Assembly to be able to form the government after the March 2017 Assembly election, where the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats in the 60-member Manipur Legislative Assembly, three short of the magic number. The BJP as the second largest party returned only 21 seats, requiring support of at least 10 MLAs outside the party.

Despite the steep differences within the coalition partners, N. Biren Singh has so far managed to keep the dissidence within his own party at bay and somehow carry with him the coalition partners, the NPP (4), NPF (4), Lok Janshakti Party, LJP (1), Congress (1) and one Independent. The Congress defector, Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh of Andro assembly constituency, after three years of his defection has recently been disqualified by the Manipur Speaker after the Supreme Court intervened and cautioned him to uphold the rule of law and put the 10th Schedule into practice in the case.

When their repeated attempts to have a change brought about at the very top, the BJP legislators have since alternatively been campaigning for a reshuffle in the Ministry for long.  With only about one and half year to go to complete the 5-year term of the  11th Manipur Legislative Assembly, the legislators, particularly those of the BJP are getting very anxious.

The recent disqualification of Shyamkumar is being seen by many non-minister BJP MLAs as their god-sent opportunity.

Just when the ‘minister hopefuls’ were literally running from pillar to post to convert the given prospect into their fortunate, deputy chief minister’s recent candid, indecent verbal attack on the chief minister presented an even wider field to manoeuvre.

Four days into the national wide lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, on 29thMarch, Chief Minister, N. Biren Singh announced that his government had decided to provide 4-kg of rice, free of cost, to everyone in the state for three months to make sure that no one go hungry during the ongoing Lockdown.

On 8th April, deputy Chief Minister, Yumnam Joykumar Singh, the leader of Legislature Party of NPP, reportedly rejected Chief Minister, N. Biren Singh’s order relating to the provision of four kgs of rice free of cost because the rice was allotted to his constituency was inadequate to meet the requirement. This was when some women of his constituency complained of not receiving the provision of rice.

Deputy Chief Minister reportedly termed the Chief Minister’s announcement as rubbish and impractical. He told the aggrieved women of his constituency that the quantity of rice allotted to his constituency is not sufficient to make such a provision. The NPP leader also added that from every constituency’s monthly rice quota, about 6 quintals are already siphoned off at source by proscribed arms outfits as their monthly shares.

Next day Joykumar was stripped of all the portfolios he had held – Forest, Environment and Climate Change, Science & Technology, MAHUD, Economics & Statistics.

Prior to the stripping exercising, the BJP spokesperson, MLA Salam Rajen, in a press conference, had challenged the four NPP Ministers in the N. Biren Singh government to resign. The BJP spokesperson was with Th. Satyabrata Singh and L. Susindro Meitei at the press conference. At least two of the three are reported to be hot contenders for the just-vacant ministerial berth, given their close proximity with the Chief Minister.

Significantly the reaction of the BJP spokesperson was conspicuous for its lop-sidedness. For a supposedly candid and personal remark of the deputy Chief Minister, describing the Chief Minister’s assurances for provision of free rice during the lockdown as not feasible given the rice available for distribution, the BJP spokesperson saw it as enough reason to launch an outright frontal attack on the NPP.

The BJP MLA further went on to drag the Health and Family Welfare Minister, L. Jayantakumar Singh, the ongoing verbal tirade. Jayantakumar is an NPP leader, and shares his constituency with BJP’s RK Shivchandra who was unsuccessful in the last election. Shivachandra, has also been campaigning during this COVID crisis, distributing rice, apparently at his own expense, but many suspect otherwise. This has made the friction between the two coalition partners – the BJP and the NPP even uglier.

While the enthusiastic and keen aggression of the BJP legislators who are, as it were, ‘waiting in the wings’ are understandable, clearly the Chief Minister, even though he may have been hit hard by the crude remarks of his deputy, heading a coalition government with a numerically strong opposition like Congress, would know that without the four NPP, he would at least need two more Congress MLAs to keep the House majority with his party.

There are seven more Congress defectors in his camp, but after the Supreme Court verdict in the Shyamkumar case, the validity of their support to the BJP may be under a cloud already.

Given the confident attitude that the BJP spokesperson challenged the coalition partner, maybe N. Biren Singh already has enough cards under his sleeves.

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