New Delhi: After days of uncertainty, Nongthombam Biren Singh took oath as Manipur’s 24th chief minister at the Raj Bhavan on March 15, the state’s first ever BJP-led government.
The other constituents of the newly sworn in government are the two partners of the NDA government at the Centre – the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) – and the BJP’s ally in Nagaland – the Naga People’s Front (NPF).
The BJP also got the much-needed support of a Congress MLA, Th. Shyamkumar, who won the assembly polls from the Andro constituency and defected to the BJP, to reach the required number of 31 to have a simple majority in the 60-member assembly. However, as per the Tenth Schedule of the Constitution or the anti-defection law, any MLA who defects to another party stands to lose his seat. As per news reports, the lone All India Trinamool Congress MLA has also offered support to the BJP-led government.
Governor Najma Heptullah administered the oath of office to Biren and eight cabinet ministers, including Yumnam Joykumar as the deputy chief minister. Joykumar, who retired as the state director general of police in August 2013, later joined the BJP. However, in the run-up to the March 4 and 8 elections, he defected to the NPP after he was denied a BJP ticket. He won as an NPP candidate from the Uripok constituency.
The other cabinet ministers are Th. Biswajit, the BJP’s sole MLA in the last assembly, L. Jayantakumar, N. Koyisi and L. Haokip of NPP, Karan Shyam, the lone LJP MLA, NPF MLA Losie Dikho and Congress defector Th. Shyamkumar.
The March 15 oath taking ceremony also marked the end of the longest continuous rule by one chief minister in the state. The Congress’s Okram Ibobi Singh ran the state with an iron fist for 15 years. He was present when the new government was sworn in. Ibobi was spotted sitting next to Ram Madhav, the BJP national general secretary in charge of the northeast, and Himanta Biswa Sarma, the convener of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA). He also congratulated Biren, his former cabinet colleague and close confidante. Biren, 56, who won the Heingang constituency as a BJP candidate, joined the party in October 2016 after he fell out with Ibobi Singh. Biren has been representing the constituency since 2002.
A former national level footballer while working for the Border Security Force, Biren went on to become a journalist with a morning vernacular daily, Naharolgi Thoudang. In 2000, he was arrested for publishing a statement made by the father of a social worker, Thounaojam Iboyaima, which allegedly encouraged the armed groups. The police had at that time reportedly said the statement published in the newspaper that Biren edited was “seditious and anti-national”.
On March 13, Biren was elected the BJP’s legislature party chief after a close fight with Th. Biswajit. On March 14, the governor invited Biren to form a BJP-led government even though the Congress was the single largest party with 28 seats – three short of simple majority. The BJP, which won 21 seats, managed to cobble together a government with support from the regional parties.
While the Congress contested the election by trying to garner the majority Meitei votes on ethnic lines, the BJP tried to turn the tide against it by raising issues of alleged corruption and misgovernance by the Ibobi government, promising voters a rule without “bandhs and blockades”. The economic blockade, called by the United Naga Council against the state government’s decision to bifurcate “Naga ancestral land” and carve out new districts since November 1, continues.
Interestingly, the March 15 swearing in ceremony also saw the NPF become a part of the Manipur government for the first time. The party, which contested the Manipur assembly polls for the first time in 2012, sent four MLAs to the house. In the 2017 elections, it fielded 15 candidates but yet again could win only four seats.