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Manipur: Revolt Likely to Leave Chief Minister Biren Singh Weak

So far, four of BJP's 32 MLAs, all holding office of profit, have resigned. Several senior party leaders, too, are nursing grievances against the chief minister. The reasons are both general and ethnic group/hill tribe-specific.

Image Courtesy: Twitter

Kolkata: From mid-March, the second Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) ministry in Manipur has been facing a revolt from within, although chief minister N Biren Singh is known in the North-East to be a strong BJP leader, who enjoys the blessings of Union home minister Amit Shah.

While campaigning for the end-February/early March 2022 Assembly election, Shah declared that if the party retained power, Biren Singh would continue to be the chief minister, cautioning other aspirants.

The developments have prompted the Opposition in Manipur led by the Congress and including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), the Communist Party of India and the Janata Dal (United) to activate their workers to be able to launch agitations on people-centric issues and equip themselves to face the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in the state which has two Lok Sabha seats.

They held a meeting at Imphal on Wednesday, April 26, will hold a satyagraha on April 29 and their second meeting on May 4. CPI(M) state secretary Kshetrymayum Santa told NewsClick that they would enlighten the people about the evil effects of BJP's communal politics and the urgency of safeguarding the Constitution and saving parliamentary democracy through agitations.

So far, four of BJP's 32 MLAs, all holding office of profit, have resigned. Several senior party leaders, too, are nursing grievances against the chief minister. The reasons are both general and ethnic group/hill tribe-specific.

The common reasons are that the chief minister gave them posts but not responsibility; he is high-handed and tends to ignore MLAs, including ministers. The specific reason is the anger of former hill-based insurgents -the Kukis- and their MLAs.

Out of the total of 32 BJP MLAs, 11 are Kuki MLAs. They are sore over the Manipur cabinet's decision of March 10 to withdraw the state government from the 'Suspension of Operation' (SoO), a sort of tripartite ceasefire deal in force since August 22, 2008.

The signatories to the agreement, usually extended by a year, are the Union government, the Manipur government and two umbrella groups of Kuki ultras – the Kuki National Army and the Zomi Revolutionary Army "whose leaders", the cabinet note mentioned, "hail from outside the state".

The state administration has defended the cabinet decision saying that firm action was called for as forests had been encroached upon and protests were fomented in Manipur, Churachandpur, Kangpokpi and Tengnoupal districts against eviction notices that had been issued.

The administration has clarified that forests will be protected and poppy cultivation will be eradicated. But, the state's reasons for the clampdown have not counted on the ethnic group, and among those who camped in New Delhi seeking "remedial" action included some Kuki MLAs.

In Manipur, as in other North-East states, BJP has been flouting all political norms since 2017 and manoeuvring to form its ministry at any cost. In 2017, the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats, against BJP's 21 seats. The remaining 11 seats in the 60-member Assembly were bagged by the Naga People's Front (NPF) and National People's Party (NPP) of Meghalaya's Conrad Sangma.

By causing defections in the Congress ranks and enlisting the support of NPF and NPP, BJP formed the ministry with Biren Singh, wooed from the Congress by Himanta Biswa Sarma of Assam, as the chief minister.

In the 2022 Assembly polls, BJP secured a majority with 32 seats, the Congress and NPF got five each, NPP seven, JD-U six, newly formed Kuki People's Alliance two and three Independents.

Although NPP committed support to BJP, it has been made to support the ministry from the outside, given BJP's unhappy experience with it in the first term when it tried to topple the ministry with the help of some Congress legislators and disgruntled BJP dissidents. In between, Biren Singh has made changes in the ministry with additions and portfolio reshuffle.

Political watchers say trouble has been brewing for Biren Singh for the last three to four months since MLA Rajkumar Imo Singh, the son-in-law of Biren Singh, cautioned recalcitrant elements in the strongest possible terms. Again, this did not go well with the chief minister's detractors, who termed it His Master's Voice.

The BJP top brass has finally moved by sending its senior leader Sambit Patra to intervene and sort the issues out.

When asked to give his assessment, Manipur University's Prof N Bijen Meetei, who specialises in multiculturalism, electoral politics, political theory and N-E states, told NewsClick, "It's rather early to comment. The number of legislators, who have quit the posts they were appointed to, is not yet large. And then, as you mentioned, the chief minister has the support of the Union home minister. The situation needs to be watched for some more time. After all, 2024 will also have to be in view by the ruling side leader."

The Opposition does not attach much importance to the reasons for the revolt; after all, people's issues are nowhere in the picture.

"It's all for posts, office and authority. That's how we see it," observed CPI (M) leader Santa; concurring with him was CPI state secretary L Thoiren.

Both pointed out the delay in holding civic and panchayat elections, which fell due in May 2021 and October 2022, respectively. The chief minister announced in the Assembly some time back that civic and Nagar panchayat elections would be held on June 6 this year, and panchayat polls have been scheduled for June 26. Manipur has a two-tier panchayat structure – gram panchayat and zila parishad. There is no panchayat samiti as the second tier.

With Lok Sabha election elections a year away, BJP will do all it can to prevent the ministry's fall. A fall will also reflect on the political standing of Shah, who handpicked Biren Singh on the advice of Assam's Sarma. But political observers also point out that the central BJP leadership henceforth will keep Biren Singh in check and, perhaps, ask him to accommodate a few disgruntled elements which matter politically in the ministry. But, in effect, the chief minister will be more dependent on the central leadership's backing. Which means he will be weaker than at present.

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