Shuffling the cards

Chief Minister N Biren Singh was under immense pressure from both his party MLAs and the ‘friends’ from Congress.

At last, the BJP-led coalition government has put into effect the major reshuffle of the ministry, which many thought would not be possible as it owes its majority in the house to its alliance partners. Chief Minister N Biren Singh was under immense pressure from both his party MLAs and the ‘friends’ from Congress. In the 12 member Council of Ministers, the majority partner BJP had only five ministers including the chief minister himself, while a minority partner NPP had four. It was repeatedly postponed with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah becoming Covid-19 positive and getting hospitalised twice. Recently, after getting summons from New Delhi, CM Biren Singh went along with the new party President S Tikendra Singh and met party leaders including Amit Shah and National Party President JP Nadda and came back after getting OK on the proposed reshuffle. Yet, it ran into rough weather here in Imphal with the four BJP ministers ganging up and the NPP ministers threatening to resign en-bloc if two of them are dropped from the ministry. So, it was delayed by a day and consultations once again with New Delhi resumed. After getting the green signal, the swearing-in happened on Thursday. Yet, the battle is far from over.

From Day One, it was not an easy ride for the beleaguered Chief Minister N Biren Singh. From managing the coalition partners to balancing the ever increasing demands of newly acquired friends from Congress and party MLAs who were left out of the ministry, not to talk of dissidence within the party ranks, it was indeed a perilous journey fraught with danger and unseen forces.

Relationship with the party was not good in the past, but now he seems to be having a working relationship with the new state party President and MPs. Most of the time, the government was at the mercy of its main coalition partners, the National Peoples’ Party (NPP) and Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF) in deciding policy matters. While the NPP was able to extract its pound of flesh with ministership for all its four MLAs, the other partner NPF was silently making its moves on the political chessboard, which led to many occasionally questioning the stance of the government on Naga peace talks. With only one minister out of four MLAs, it put them at an advantage to dictate terms to the government. Now, NPF has got two ministers with the entry of Awangbou Newmai while its other MLA K Leishiyo was made the Chairman of the Hill Areas Committee of the Manipur Legislative Assembly. The uneasy relationship with its coalition partners were seen in the Lok Sabha election, when both NPF and NPP refused to ally with BJP by putting up their own candidates in the Outer Manipur Parliamentary seat.

The NPF candidate Lorho S Pfoze won, while the NPP supported the CPI candidate Dr M Nara in the Inner Manipur Parliamentary seat which BJP won. It happened again during the Rajya Sabha elections when NPP pulled away from the ruling coalition and supported the Congress candidate.

The day was saved by CM Biren with him pulling out two rabbits from his hat while disabling a few.

At present, the Manipur Legislative Assembly has now an effective strength of 53 legislators, with 4 disqualified and 3 BJP legislators whose resignations were accepted by the Speaker. Of these 53 legislators, BJP and its partners numbered 28 excluding the Speaker while that of Indian National Congress is 24 including the silent supporters of the BJP led government. In the Thursday reshuffle, three new faces from BJP and two recently resigned Congress MLAs were inducted after dropping six ministers from the coalition. As not everybody could be accommodated, ruffled feathers will once again start flapping. Let us wait and see.

First Published:Sept. 25, 2020, 12:14 a.m.

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