|BJP, supporting MLAs with Heptulla. Oinam Anand|
Esha Roy, IE, | Imphal | March 13, 2017: LATE on Sunday evening, newly elected Congress MLA Shyam Kumar appeared before mediapersons at Manipur Raj Bhavan to declare that he wanted to join the BJP. A day that saw the BJP steal a march over the Congress in a show of strength before the Governor in Manipur couldn’t have had a more apt moment.
Close to midnight, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh called a press conference, saying he had met Governor Najma Heptulla and asked her to invite the Congress to form the government as it was the single largest party, with 28 MLAs in the 60-member House. But with Kumar straying towards the BJP, Ibobi Singh could parade only 27 MLAs.
The BJP, which won 21 seats, showed letters of support from the NPP’s four MLAs and one of the LJP, and said it also had another four MLAs of the NPF. In the evening, the lone Trinamool Congress MLA, Pongbram Robindro, also landed up at Raj Bhavan to lend support to the BJP, taking its total numbers to 31.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, who has been camping in Imphal for nearly a month and campaigned extensively throughout the state, pipped the Congress in showing off the numbers, holding a press conference with the MLAs of the NPP (National People’s Party) and its president Conrad Sangma, and the state president of the LJP (Lok Janshakti Party) and its lone winning candidate, K Shyam. He said the NPF (Naga People’s Front) had issued a statement expressing interest in extending support to any non-Congress government.
By Monday, Ram Madhav added, the BJP would announce its CM candidate. At the press meeting, which was held before the BJP and others went to meet Heptulla, Ram Madhav said, “First of all, a happy Holi to everyone. Over the past 24 hours, there have been extensive discussions between the BJP and other non-Congress parties of Manipur. The BJP has come to an understanding with the NPP, LJP and NPF.”
Madhav added that both the NPP and LJP had been BJP partners for long. “There has been a mandate in Manipur clearly for a non-Congress government so it is natural that all the political leaders decided to come together. I welcome my colleagues from the NPP and LJP for their wise and timely decision to join us. I know that there are other options available but they have respected the mandate of the people and the platform of development that Manipur has chosen.”
The NPP emerged the kingmaker — in Sangma’s home state Meghalaya, it has only two MLAs — and Sangma said the BJP promised change. “The verdict of the people of Manipur is a verdict for change, and we will together give them that change… Under the leadership of the Central government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we will be able to see change in Manipur.”
The LJP’s K Shyam said they aimed to “finish the Congress regime”. BJP Manipur in-charge Prahlad Patel said the anti-defection law wouldn’t apply to Congress MLA Shyam Kumar who wants to support the BJP, till tested on the floor of the house. “He will take oath as a Congress MLA… Only in case of voting (on a trust vote), if he supports us will he be disqualified. Even then, if he is unchallenged, he won’t be disqualified,” said Patel.
At his press conference, Ibobi Singh asserted there had been no defections. “There have been no resignations and therefore no defections. If Kumar crosses the floor, then he will be in violation of the Tenth Schedule (covering the anti-defection law).”
“I went to Raj Bhavan and met the Governor and urged her to give the Congress the first chance to show strength on the floor of the House because the Congress is the single largest party. I am hoping that the Governor will do justice,” he said.
Calling the BJP opportunistic, Ibobi Singh said it had categorically denied any possibility of a tie-up with the NPF before the Assembly elections. “The people of Manipur will never accept ties with a party hell bent on breaking up Manipur,” Ibobi Singh said.
Ram Madhav questioned how Ibobi Singh could stake claim given that he was an incumbent and had not resigned yet. “We have shown the Governor our names and have told her we are prepared to form the government. For Ibobi Singh to stake claim, he needs to resign first.”