N Biren Singh set to lead BJP's first government in Manipur
Governor Najma Heptullah invited the BJP to form the government on Tuesday after meeting the newly elected legislators of the Naga People's Front and the National People's Party who are backing the saffron party.
The NPF and the NPP have four MLAs each in the new assembly. The BJP is said to enjoy the support of the lone Trinamool Congress MLA and that of the Lok Janshakti Party as well. One Congress legislator has also switched over to the BJP camp, taking its tally to 31 in the 60-member House. To shore up its strength further, the party is also trying to win over the lone independent MLA.
Though the Congress is the single largest party with 28 seats, it hasn't been able to find support of three more legislators required for majority, bringing an end to the 15-year rule of Okram Ibobi Singh.
Ibobi Singh met the governor Monday with letters of support from 27 MLAs -- one Congress MLA had already publicly announced his support to the BJP – paving the way for Biren to stake claim to form the government.
Biren, it seems, faces only one hurdle now before he can prove his majority. The NPF has demanded that all four of its MLAs be given prominent berths in the ministry if the BJP wants their support. In a letter to the BJP state chief, NPF president Awangbung Newmai laid his party's claim to the key portfolios of hill and tribal development; minor irrigation and works; planning and public health engineering; irrigation and flood control; and rural development.
A BJP leader said the party's leadership would now try to persuade the NPF to climb down on its demands.
That the BJP appears reluctant to agree to the NPF's demands has given hope to the Congress, however slim. The NPF leaders have not indicated what they would do if their demands are not met by the BJP.
Meanwhile, there is confusion over who the lone independent legislator is supporting. Both camps claim to have the vote of Ashabuddin, who is now missing, with the Congress blaming the saffron party. The party's chief spokesman RS Surjewala tweeted, “BJP now misusing CISF & Airport authorities to detain & abduct Independent MLA, Asabuddin, at Imphal, Airport and take him to Calcutta.”
In another tweet on 12 March, Surjewala added, “ModiGovt is playing a dangerous game of subverting democracy & abducting MLAs by misusing CISF at Imphal Airport despite electoral loss.”
Surjewala claimed that Ashabuddin had been travelling with Congress leader Abdu Nasir when he was “abducted”. Soon after, BJP leadership claimed that the independent MLA had joined the party.
There was drama over the issue of NPP's support as well. The Congress gave the governor a letter of support purportedly from the NPP, only for Heptullah to claim that she had received a letter from the NPP claiming to support the BJP as well. On Tuesday, NPP's Conrad Sangma said the letter purportedly submitted by the Congress was a “fake”.
As things stand, the BJP is set to form the government and prove its majority. If it indeed does, the Congress will be left with only Meghalaya and Mizoram in the Northeast, and that bodes ill for the grand old party's fortunes in the region.