Imphal: BJP’s N Biren Singh, who took oath as Manipur’s Chief Minister on March 15, has to prove his majority in the state assembly on Monday. Despite being the second largest party – with 21 legislators – in the recently-concluded assembly elections, the BJP claims to have the support of 33 legislators with the help of regional parties and independent lawmakers. Hours before the crucial trust vote, the economic blockade in the state, which lasted for 130 days, was lifted. The blockade, which was led by the United Naga Council, ended after talks were successful with the central and state governments. “We have fulfilled the promise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by convincing the UNC to lift the blockade,” Chief Minister Biren Singh told media on Sunday evening. PM Modi had vowed to remove the blockade if BJP was elected to power in a state ruled by the Congress for 15 years under Okram Ibobi Singh. This is the first time a BJP government is heading the state.
The BJP and the Congress are keeping their cards close to the chest ahead of Monday’s crucial trust vote in the Manipur Assembly. 17 of the BJP’s 21 newly elected legislators have been camping at a hotel in Assam’s Guwahati. The Congress, on the other hand, has sheltered its 27 MLAs in the house of one of its legislators in Imphal. “We have kept our legislators in Guwahati in response to the Congress keeping their MLAs in a house in Imphal. Our legislators thought we must also stand united,” said Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s key strategist for Manipur.
No party received a simple majority in the 2017 Manipur assembly election. The Congress, which had ruled the state for 3 consecutive terms (15 years), emerged as a single largest party with 28 of the total 60 seats. The BJP, which debuted in the state, came second with 21 seats. A party needs a minimum support of 31 legislators to form a government in Manipur.
The BJP says it has the support of 33 legislators with the help of the NPP, NPF, LJP, an independent legislator, a Trinamool Congress MLA, and Shyam Kumar – a defector from the Congress – who took oath as a minister in the N Biren Singh government. Speaking to the media, Trinamool Congress legislator Robindro Singh reportedly said the party gave him full freedom to support the BJP. “I spoke to (senior TMC leader) Mukul Roy. They left it to me. They said if you can do well by supporting the BJP, then you can take your own call,” he said.
In less than a week since being elected Chief Minister, N Biren Singh’s government successfully lifted the economic blockade that had crippled the state’s supply lines for the last 130 days. “This is a good beginning of good governance,” Mr Singh told the media. A joint statement released after the meeting stated that there would be “unconditional release of the arrested UNC leaders and all cases related to the economic blockade against the Naga tribe leaders and student leaders will be closed”. It also said that the next round of talks will be held within a month.
Governor Najma Heptulla said the first step of the newly formed government led by the BJP “will usher in an era of peace and prosperity” in the north-eastern state.
The Naga groups had called for a blockade on November 1, 2016 after the erstwhile Congress government of Chief Minister Ibobi Singh carved out seven new districts in the state, especially in the Naga dominated areas. The Naga leadership had called it an attack on its tribal lands and cultural integrity protected under the constitution.
The protesters had cut off the two main highways – NH2 and NH 37 – depriving the state of essential commodities. Long queues at fuel stations had become a common sight in the state capital of Imphal where the price of LPG cylinders shot up to Rs. 2,000 each in the black market. Paramilitary forces were also mobilised in the state after incidents of violence.
Multiple rounds of talks in Imphal and Delhi were inconclusive. Union Minister Kiren Rijiju had alleged that the blockade was the “handiwork” of the state’s then Chief Minister.