Despite disruptions in the conduct of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2022, the votes through the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) has mandated the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the absolute majority of 32 seats in the 60-member Manipur Assembly. The other parties including the incumbent opposition Congress couldn’t manage to get two-digit number out of the remaining 28 seats.
However, the BJP cannot choose its legislative leader to be next Chief Minister of Manipur. The BJP which has boasted itself the most disciplined and cadre based party is now reportedly caught in a tug of war for the Manipur Chief Minister’s post in spite of the denials of such tussle by the party leaders including the care taker Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren, former minister Thongam Biswajit and State Unit President of BJP Adhikarimayum Sharda.
Many people including a section within the BJP feels the incumbent Nongthombam Biren should be the natural choice for continuing at the seat of Manipur’s Chief Minister. They think that it is Nongthombam Biren who transformed Manipur to a “blockade free, “bandh free” state where the relationship between the hills and valley becomes cohesive as they claim and led the BJP to victory securing absolute majority of 32 seats in the 60-member house of Manipur Assembly.
It is open secret in Manipur and talk of the town that another section within the BJP thinks that this would undermine the crucial role played by other leaders in the party who helped the party grow from almost zero to significant number and strength to strength in due course of time.
In this context, the name of Thongam Biswajit resurfaces in the run-up for Manipur’s Chief Ministerial berth as many in the party reportedly felt that he had missed his chance in 2017 despite being the senior most BJP legislature and playing a pivotal role in the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2017 where the party reached to 21 seats from only one effective member before the election.
In 2017, the party did not place a chief ministerial candidate before the public as they were obsessed only with the overwhelming of the 15-year-old Congress regime under Chief Minister Okram Ibobi. As many big guns of the BJP lost in the 2017 election, Nongthombam Biren who was a minister in Okram Ibobi’s Congress government joined the BJP just before few months of the 2017 election was lucky to persuade the party leaders to negotiate with senior most BJP MLA Thongam Biswajit to sacrifice the claim for Chief Minister’s post. With only 21 members Nongthombam Biren could manage to form the BJP government with blessings from the then Governor of Manipur Najma Heptulla even before the constitution of the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly by cobbling up members from other smaller parties – four members each of Naga People’s Front (NPF) and National People’s Party (NPP); one member each of All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) and Lok Janashakti Party (LJP); and one member from the Congress, Thounaojam Shyamkumar defying the anti-defection law.
There again a section within the party argues that Nongthombam Biren should get another chance to lead the BJP-government in the state as he has successfully run the full five-year term despite many hurdles within and without the party besides the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some sources closed to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also pointed out why should not be a third face considered in case of the tussle between Thongam Biswajit and Nongthombam Biren cannot be resolved. There, name of Govindas Konthoujam who just few months before the election defected from the opposition Congress by resigning from the post of the president of Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC). Govindas has won the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election from Bishnupur Assembly Constituency this time on BJP ticket. He has been representing the Assembly Constituency for seven terms. His roots are in the RSS. Even the general public asks – Would Govindas leave the Congress party president post and has joined the BJP for just a cabinet ministerial berth? Or will he be a political victim?
Another question arises here will Thongam Biswajit be the Chief Minister of Manipur or will he miss the bus again? If Nongthombam Biren returns for his second term, Thongam Biswajit’s political career to become Chief Minister of Manipur is at stake. In case someone a third face becomes Chief Minister of Manipur for the BJP government this time, Thongam Biswajit can live on hope of becoming Chief Minister of Manipur in future.
The BJP is yet to name its Chief Minister for Manipur even after the party won the absolute majority in the recently held Manipur Legislative Assembly Election. After the constitution of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly and oath taking of the members of the house on March 14, the incumbent Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren, Senior most BJP legislature and former minister Thongam Biswajit and State Unit President of BJP Adhikarimayum Sharda were summoned to the capital, New Delhi recently. They flew to New Delhi together in chartered flight on March 15.
While the three BJP leaders of Manipur were in New Delhi some national media on March 16 published that the incumbent Nongthombam Biren will continue to be the next Chief Minister of Manipur. Soon after the news of Biren’s second term went on viral, in national media fire crackers blasted off at the BJP office located at Nityaipat Chuthek in Imphal.
However on returning to Imphal Biswajit told at Imphal airport on March 17 that there was nothing discussed regarding the leader of state BJP legislature. The meeting with central leaders was to celebrate the victory of BJP in the recent election of Manipur.
Regarding new leader of BJP Legislature Party Biswajit who landed in Imphal before Biren and Sharda further said, “We don’t have any group among ourselves; that is true for sure. The BJP is a democratic party, and the leadership will decide this. The parliamentary board of Central leaders will announce the state legislature party leader.”
It has been reported that Biren said the meeting was only a review meeting chaired by national BJP president JP Nadda. During the meeting they discussed about the recent election in Manipur and what steps the party should take in the next five years and 2024 parliamentary election.
“BJP is a well organised and discipline political party and whatever the central leadership decides, we have to follow,” Biren said, adding that “the news that went viral was just a mere media speculation with an unofficial source. It is yet to be decided who will be the Chief Minister of a new Manipur government. Let the party decide”.
Manipur BJP president Adhikarimayum Sharda on her return after meeting Central party leaders in New Delhi to Imphal along with incumbent Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren on March 17 said that Central observer Nirmala Sitharaman will announce the state BJP legislature party leader after the Holi festival.
Earlier before leaving for New Delhi the State BJP president Adhikarimayum Sharda also told the media after the declaration of election result, “We have a parliamentary board that will name the next Chief Minister in consultation with the State unit leadership.”
The BJP always boasts as a disciplined and cadre based largest Democratic Party in the world. Then, the pertinent question arises here is – Why the 32 legislatures of the BJP in the 60-memebr Manipur Legislative Assembly can’t elect their own leader among themselves given the context as they claim that there is no division among them and they are democratic, disciplined and cadre-based political party? Seeking endorsement or approval of the BJP’s national leadership after the legislatures have chosen their own leader is something else which can be considered. Why can’t the BJP legislatures take their own responsibility of choosing their own leader? Why should they compromise the “mandate” with anyone chosen as their leader by the BJP’s national leadership? Will the BJP’s government in Manipur also be run by the national leadership of the party? Why the BJP legislatures can’t elect their leader among themselves? The BJP should be responsible to deliver what the “mandate” wants. The BJP legislatures are also responsible to the people; they should not handover their responsibilities to their national leadership.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics