|Nongthomgbam Biren Singh being felicitated after his election as BJP Legislature Party leader in Imphal on Monday. (PTI)|
Khelen Thokchom, TT, Imphal, March 13: Former footballer Nongthomgbam Biren Singh was today elected leader of the BJP Legislature Party and staked claim to form the next government in Manipur by calling on governor Najma Heptulla at Raj Bhavan this evening.
The Congress's Okram Ibobi Singh is also set to stake claim tomorrow. He resigned from the post of chief minister tonight.
"I will stake claim to form the government tomorrow," Ibobi Singh told reporters at the Congress camp while the BJP legislators were in the process of choosing their leader at a hotel here.
"I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. The challenge before me is tough. I left the Congress to bring a change. I will try to bring good governance. The mandate was to bring a change. I will bring change," Biren Singh told reporters immediately after he was elected leader.
Former Congressman Biren Singh was minister during Ibobi Singh's second tenure as chief minister and defected to the BJP last year, accusing the Congress government of non-performance.
The process to elect the BJP Legislature Party leader took over five hours. Biren Singh was chosen after BJP observer and Union minister of state (independent change) for power Piyush Goyal met all the 21 BJP legislators one by one. Union human resource minister Prakash Javadekar was also present during the meeting.
"After extensive discussions, the BJP Legislature Party elected Biren as the leader. Th. Biswajit Singh proposed the name and (it was) seconded by Nemcha Kipgen. We have the support of the National People's Party (NPP), Naga People's Front (NPF), LJP and some others," Goyal announced.
The results of the Assembly elections, which were declared on Saturday, threw up a fractured verdict with the Congress emerging as the single largest party with 28 seats and the BJP coming second with 21. However, both parties fell short of the majority mark of 31 seats in the 60-member House. The NPP and the NPF have bagged four seats each, the LJP and the Trinamul Congress have one seat each and an Independent has one seat.
Biren Singh submitted a list of 31 MLAs that comprises 21 BJP lawmakers, four NPP MLAs, four NPF legislators, one LJP and one Independent MLA. The lone Trinamul Congress MLA is with the Congress.
High drama marked the formation of the two rival forces.
Yesterday, the agriculture minister in the outgoing ministry, Abdul Nasir, flew the Independent MLA from Jiribam, Ashab Uddin, to Imphal via Silchar (the nearest airport to Jiribam) and Guwahati. When Nasir and Ashab landed, BJP legislator Biswajit Singh, who was waiting at the airport, snatched away the Independent and a BJP team took him back to Guwahati.
The BJP is not disclosing the whereabouts of Ashab Uddin.
Ibobi Singh late last night called on the governor and urged her to invite the Congress to form the government. The governor asked him to first resign and then stake claim.
"All the 28 Congress MLAs are intact. We will make the claim to form the government tomorrow. We will show the strength on the floor of the House. Being the single largest party, the governor should invite us first. We are not worried about the numbers. We will show it," Ibobi Singh said.
Biren Singh was a former national-level footballer and served in the Border Security Force (BSF). After resigning from the BSF, he became a journalist and edited a vernacular daily based in Imphal before being elected MLA in 2002 from Heingang constituency on a Democratic Revolutionary People's Party ticket. He subsequently joined the Congress. Since then, he has been representing Heingang and held the irrigation and flood control portfolio during Ibobi Singh's second term as chief minister. At one point of time, he was Ibobi Singh's trouble-shooter.