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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Manipur: Congress councillors set to join BJP, MLAs may follow soon

This comes just a month after Manipur witnessed a political crisis, with three BJP MLAs resigning from the Assembly to join the Congress, and the NPP -- BJP’s main ally -- threatening to pull out of the government.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi | Updated: July 29, 2020 10:54:53 am
MLA R K Imo has been sent showcause notice by the Congress. (File)

A churning is in the offing in the Manipur Congress, with a majority of Congress councillors in the Imphal Municipal Corporation expected to join the BJP in the next few days. A significant number of Congress MLAs are also likely to join the BJP in August.

This comes just a month after Manipur witnessed a political crisis, with three BJP MLAs resigning from the Assembly to join the Congress, and the NPP — BJP’s main ally — threatening to pull out of the government.

The developments in the Congress come on the heels of two party MLAs – R K Imo and Okram Henry — being sent showcause notices by the Congress for having voted in favour of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha election in July. While the Congress seemed to have more numbers, a last-minute manoeuvre by the BJP ensured that its candidate Leisemba Sanajaoba, Manipur’s former royal, won the Rajya Sabha seat.

Son of former Congress chief minister of Manipur R K Jaichandra Singh, Imo is also incumbent Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s son-in-law and a Congress MLA from Sagolband constituency. Henry is former Congress CM and CLP leader Okram Ibobi Singh’s nephew and an MLA from Wangkhei constituency in Imphal.

“The chasm between Imo and Ibobi was widening over the years, with Ibobi perceiving him as a threat. Several assurances from the central Congress leadership and AICC to accommodate Imo in New Delhi have come to naught. Now Imo is in a sensitive position of being in the Congress while being a BJP CM’s son-in-law,” said a Congress source.

Sources said that Ibobi also had a falling out with his nephew Henry “on personal grounds”. “Henry had left his first wife to remarry. He has been ostracised by his entire family including Singh,” said a Congress source.

The cross-voting is believed to be just the tip of a strategy the BJP has been working towards to secure stability for its government. Biren Singh has had a tumultuous tenure since the state got its first BJP government in 2017, with a faction of the BJP led by Th Biswajit Singh, a CM aspirant, set in opposition to the CM. An attempt to remove Biren Singh in 2019 came to naught with the BJP central leadership stepping in and throwing their weight behind the incumbent CM.

The Congress councillors joining the BJP this week is believed to be another step in securing the BJP’s position. There are 27 councillors in Manipur, of which the Congress has nine, and most of them are expected to join the BJP.

Later in August, Congress sources said, as many as one-third of the Congress MLAs are expected to join the BJP. This will put the Congress in a minority for the first time since the Assembly elections in 2017, when it had secured 28 of the 60 seats. Since then, one MLA, Shyam Kumar, had shifted to the BJP, while three others were recently disqualified from the Assembly, bringing the Congress’s number down to 24 MLAs.

The BJP had only 21 MLAs after the elections. Three MLAs recently quit the party to join the Congress. But with the BJP having re-secured its allies NPP and a lone TMC MLA, apart from MLAs from the NPF and LJP, and more Congress MLAs set to join the party, the BJP may soon have more numbers than the Congress in Manipur for the first time.

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