Follow Us:

Matters come to a head

The current political crisis in Manipur has been a couple of years in the making.

Yambem Laba | New Delhi |

The crisis in Manipur was first reported in The Statesman almost a month ago in an article that said the works minister of the state had been camping in Kolkata along with 12 MLAs allegedly working out a strategy to dislodge Chief Minister N Biren Singh. Then on 4 June, six ministers stayed away from the cabinet meeting, which was held in the NSCN (I-M) stronghold of Ukhrul town. The immediate problem was sparked when the Reserve Bank of India imposed a ban on all financial transactions of the Government of Manipur because it had spent an overdraft of more than Rs 245 crore.

Earlier also, the state government could not pay salaries to its thousands of employees following a series of clampdowns by the RBI in 1998-99. Things stabilised from 2002 to 2016 during the reign of Okram Ibobi Singh as employees began getting their salaries on time.

Apparently, N Biren Singh thought or was advised by central leaders, to stifle the voices of dissent in the Manipur government. First, he called a cabinet meeting to discuss the financial crisis in the state during which he allegedly stated that the funds crunch stemmed from the fact that a huge sum of money was drawn by the works department under Thongam Biswajit Singh.

Biren Singh also announced that the amount was drawn during the period when the Moral Code of Conduct imposed by the Election Commission of India was in force. Biswajit Singh’s portfolios of works and power were stripped off him and Deputy Chief Minister Yumnam Joykumar Singh’s finance portfolio followed suit. The CM took charge of all three of them and a circular banning any fresh appointment at the various departments was also issued by the state government. The power department was all set to recruit a record 1,000 employees and the examination schedules for the same had already been published.

Biswajit Singh struck back by flying to New Delhi along with other dissident ministers and MLAs in tow. He made the mandatory rounds of the Prime Minister, Defence, Home and Finance Ministers’ offices and is said to have requested the central leadership to allow additional borrowings within the overall ceiling allowed for Manipur. He also urged early release of the state’s share of central taxes.

But all the niceties apart, Biswajit Singh and his group were not keeping quiet in New Delhi. They allegedly impressed upon the Bharatiya Janata Party’s top brass and leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that Biren Singh has the support of only six out of 21 BJP legislators in the state. He seems to have got the blessings of the RSS, who apparently instructed the BJP to go along with the wishes of the dissenting MLAs.

As a last ditch measure, Biren Singh is reported to have offered the post of Deputy Chief Minister to Biswajit Singh but the latter has been adamant till now while supposedly stating that it is the removal of Biren Singh as Chief Minister that they want. The saffron brigade also has reasons not to be happy with Biren Singh with the non passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill during the last session of Parliament earlier this year. There was a hue and cry in the North-east over the proposed CAB. The major uprising was expected in Assam where the maximum impact was to be felt. However, Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal and his number two man, Himanta Biswa Sharma handled it deftly with both a show of strength as well through dialogue.

But it was not so in Manipur where curfew had to imposed in an attempt to keep protestors indoors. During that time Biren Singh was in New Delhi in what was reported in the media to be a move to convince the BJP leadership to insert a clause to exempt Manipur from the purview of the CAB when it became an all India Act. And when the CAB got lapsed, Biren Singh returned home to a massive crowd who welcomed him at the Hafta Kanjeibung polo ground and he was hailed as the man who had single handedly stalled the passing of the CAB.

The BJP, which has time and again boasted of being a party that stands against horse-trading in politics anywhere in the country, has failed on that front in Manipur. In the 2017 elections to the State Assembly, it had garnered a total of 21 seats against the Congress’s 28 in a House of 60. But it tied up with the Naga People’s Front, which had got four seats and the National People’s Party with four also.

But that made up 29 seats only. So they roped in political buccaneer Th Shyamkumar Singh of the Congress, Mohammed Ashabuddin, an independent MLA from Jiribam, and also the lone Loka Jana Shakti Party MLA, Kh Shyamkumar. According to the book, Shyamkumar Singh ought to have been immediately axed. But former Chief Minister and leader of the Congress Legislative Party, Okram Ibobi Singh did not move an inch towards his disqualification. When he finally decided to do so a year later, Speaker Yumnam Khemchand sat on it for about eight months prompting the Congress Party to approach the Manipur High Court where the case has been pending since. Also, the eight Congress MLAs, who defected, have not been seated in the Treasury Bench in the House and continue to sit in the Opposition Bench. No move has been made thereafter for disqualification of the Congress MLAs for the same. This means in the case of a floor test, none of the nine Congress defectors would be able to vote for Biren Singh. The Naga People’s Front have already decided to withdraw support from the government and with National People’s Party, chief Yumnam Joykumar being publicly humiliated, it is more than likely that they too will pull the rug from under the government’s feet when the chips are down. That apart Biren Singh has allegedly made the financial overdraft appear to be a scam notwithstanding the fact that any financial transaction over Rs two crore requires the Chief Minister’s signature.

Whether the BJP’s high command would tolerate any open revolt against its chosen leaders is one thing but when it comes to the numbers game, it is unlikely that Biren Singh will survive when the majority of his MLAs are against him. It may be mentioned here that the CM recently shot into international infamy when he allegedly had journalist Wangkhemcha Wangthoi arrested under the National Security Act for a social media post. It earned the wrath of the American Press Association, the Press Council of India and a host of others, including Noam Chomsky. One feels the choice before the BJP is to replace Biren Singh with Biswajit Singh or impose President’s Rule in Manipur.

The writer is the Imphal-based Special Representative of The Statesman