The BJP-led coalition government in Manipur appears to be unravelling with three BJP MLAs quitting the party and joining the Congress, the principal Opposition in the state, ahead of the Rajya Sabha election on Friday. The BJP’s chief ally in the state, the National People’s Party (NPP), with four MLAs, has also withdrawn support to the government. The Congress has asked the governor, Najma Heptulla, to convene a special session of the Assembly to vote on a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister N Biren Singh, and also proposed a resolution for the removal of the speaker of the Assembly.
Electoral politics in Manipur has many moving parts that make political calculations a complicated and messy affair. On Thursday, the Congress, which has 20 MLAs, the NPP, Trinamool Congress and an independent announced the formation of a Secular Progressive Front and claimed the support of 26 MLAs. As of now, the strength of Manipur Assembly is 56 seats, including seven MLAs who face disqualification. The Manipur High Court has ruled against these MLAs voting in the Rajya Sabha election, and on Thursday, asked a Speaker’s tribunal to postpone announcement of its decision on the disqualification issue. In case these MLAs, who won on the Congress ticket but now support the BJP, are disqualified, the House strength will fall to 49, and it could become untenable for Biren Singh to continue in office. By all accounts, a stable government in the state looks a distant prospect even if he survives the no-confidence motion — the origins of the crisis lie in the formation of the ministry in 2017. Then, the governor had invited Singh, a minister in the previous Congress ministry, to form the government even though the BJP had only 21 MLAs as against the Congress’s 28 in a 60-member House. The allies who propped up the ministry had to be rewarded with plum ministerial posts — all four NPP MLAs were made ministers, for instance. The revolt of the NPP and others apparently stems from Singh’s decision to strip the deputy CM, an NPP leader, of his portfolios. The glue that held the government together was power, and in its absence the coalition is unsurprisingly refusing to hold.
The fluid nature of politics in Manipur is also characteristic of many other states in the North-east, where coalitions are made and unmade based on opportunism rather than any shared ideology or vision. Legislators switch parties without any penalties or unease. Even governors, who ought to uphold constitutional principles and play the role of fair arbitrator, are known to take sides. Heptulla has an opportunity, now, to redeem that record.
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