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Year-long power tussle between CM & his deputy — how the Manipur crisis came to be

Nine MLAs have deserted the NDA, reducing it to a minority in the 59-member Manipur assembly. Deputy CM Y. Joykumar Singh is leading the revolt.

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New Delhi: Over a year after an inter-regime crisis began in Manipur, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, a footballer-turned-politician, is now battling to save his government due to a last-minute move by his deputy ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections.

On Wednesday, Deputy CM Y. Joykumar Singh resigned from the NDA government, along with three of his National People’s Party (NPP) colleagues. One Trinamool Congress MLA and an Independent MLA withdrew their support too.

This wasn’t all. Three BJP MLAs also quit the party to join the Congress.

In all, nine MLAs deserted the NDA, reducing it to a minority in the 59-member assembly. The move came three years after the BJP trumped the single-largest party in the assembly, the Congress (with 28 seats), to form the government.

But this chain of events was only waiting to be played out. Over the last few months, the infighting in the alliance government had grown due to Singh’s one-man style of managing state affairs without taking the allies on board.

Speaking to ThePrint, a BJP leader said, “The chief minister was aware that Y. Joykumar was plotting to topple government and he was waiting only for the Rajya Sabha election to be over to drop him from the cabinet. But Joykumar pulled the plug.”

The Rajya Sabha elections are scheduled for Friday. If the BJP manages to win the lone seat in Manipur, it will get some time to fend off the challenge. But its chances are looking bleak for now.

“Joykumar has an old association with (ex-Congress CM) Ibobi Singh while working as DG police of Manipur. Maybe, the chief minister underestimated his ambition,” said the leader who didn’t wish to be named.

NPP leader Joykumar, who is leading the revolt, said, “We raised the issue of shortage of foodgrains during lockdown but instead of ensuring supply he divested me from my portfolio. BJP MLAs asked me in public to resign from the cabinet. We are going to form an alternative government, the numbers are with us.”

Also read: Mizoram minister Robert Romawia Royte carries boulders to help rebuild neighbour’s house

How the crisis began

The crisis began in June last year, when Chief Minister N. Biren Singh divested his deputy Joykumar of the finance portfolio and BJP minister Thongam Biswajit Singh of the power and public works portfolio on the grounds that there was an overdraft of Rs 250 crore that pushed the Reserve Bank of India to instruct the State Bank of India to stop payments.

Th Biswajit and a few other leaders asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then BJP president Amit Shah to remove Biren Singh as chief minister.

Biswajit was critical of the CM’s style of functioning and he complained to BJP Northeast in-charge Ram Madhav, and Northeast point person Himanta Biswa Sarma several times, said a second BJP leader who didn’t wish to be named.

After an intervention from the Centre, the CM restored Biswajit’s portfolio, but didn’t return Joykumar’s portfolio. He was instead given civil aviation.

On 4 April this year, Joykumar was returned the finance portfolio, but merely five days later he was again divested of it after his severe criticism of the CM’s handling of PDS distribution in the state during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Similar story, but it is ‘not over’

The political crisis in Manipur at the moment has echoes of the period before the 2017 assembly elections.

At the time, BJP chief ministerial face K. Joykishan defected to the Congress. Biswajit then became a claimant to be the party’s CM face. But the party got Biren Singh, the deputy of Ibobi Singh, to lead Manipur.

Now, the deputy CM now is trying to stage a fall of the Biren Singh government.

However, Himanta Biswa Sarma, despite an illness, has been pressed to save to the government, and he is now communicating with the rebel group.

“We are facing trouble but it is not over. We are optimistic to manage the crisis,” said BJP state president Tikendra Singh.

Also read: Manipur is upset its traditional leirum phee is being sold as ‘Modi gamcha’ in UP

Number game to survive

With nine MLAs leaving the government, the Congress is now fancying its chances of getting back in power. Congress legislature party leader and ex-chief minister Ibobi Singh has claimed the support of 30 MLAs to form the new government.

However, the Manipur Speaker is yet to decide on the disqualification of seven Congress MLAs, who are supporting the BJP.

On 28 March, the Speaker had disqualified Congress MLA Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh, reducing the House strength to 59.

Along with its remaining 27 MLAs, Congress is also claiming the support of 4 NPP MLAs to form the government. In case of a floor test, if the seven Congress and 3 BJP MLAs are not allowed to vote, then the assembly strength will come down to 49 members.

But for the moment, all eyes will be on the result of the Rajya Sabha election.

Also read: Manipur principal travels 120 km, trekking via forests, to conduct parent-teacher meetings


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