New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation has summoned former Manipur chief minister and Congress leader Okram Ibobi Singh for questioning in a case of alleged misappropriation of state government funds worth Rs 332 crore during his regime. The summons come at a time when Singh is leading the move to replace the BJP-led coalition government in Manipur.
The CBI had filed the FIR related to the case in November last year. Singh has been asked to be present for interrogation on June 24. A CBI team has already arrived at the state capital of Imphal.
The timing of the summons by the central agency which functions under the Union Minister of Home Affairs, Amit Shah, is, however, being viewed by political observers in the state as a possible move to buy time and thwart the Ibobi-led Secular Progressive Front’s attempt to topple the N. Biren Singh government.
“The timing can’t just be overlooked at a time when Ibobi has been made the joint leader of the Front and together with the National People’s Party (NPP) MLAs and the TMC and independent MLAs, has sought a special session of the assembly from the governor to bring a no-confidence motion against Biren government,” a senior editor of a local news organisation told The Wire.
The BJP-led government plunged into a crisis on June 17 with the shifting of three party MLAs to the Congress besides its ally, the four NPP MLAs along with the lone independent candidate and the All India Trinamool Congress legislator pulling away their support to it.
The editor, who requested to be anonymous citing “vindictive politics in the state”, also pointed out, “A similar development had happened in Karnataka when another central agency, the Enforcement Directorate, was set after state Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar because he played a crucial role in the formation of the coalition government there after the 2018 polls. Allegation of corruption against political leaders must be probed but it should be in public interest and not in the interest of any party.”
Unofficially, sources in the state BJP don’t deny the timing of “the Central government’s move”. One such source added, “Side by side, an attempt is also being made to bring back the four MLAs of the NPP. This is because we need the numbers. Five of the Congress MLAs have been disqualified for supporting us. Three of our MLAs have resigned from the party.”
A party source said, “NEDA [North East Democratic Alliance] convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma arrived in Imphal on June 22 to placate the rebel MLAs. He has the full support of the NPP president [and Meghalaya chief minister] Conrad Sangma, who came with him to Imphal too. Between them, they held several sessions with the legislators but the state NPP leaders are led by Yumnam Joykumar who has serious differences with the chief minister N. Biren and thus the meetings remained inconclusive.”
A news report in Imphal Free Press, too, quoted “highly reliable source from NPP” to state that Sangma had a closed door meeting “for several hours” with the NPP MLAs but it “was inconclusive”. Sangma is said to have visited Imphal at the request of Amit Shah. The duo – Sangma and Sarma – left Imphal around 10 pm on June 22 and also had a meeting with the chief minister during the day-long visit.
Meanwhile, NPP state unit chief T. Kipgen issued a statement accusing the BJP-led government of “never consulting” its allies before taking a major decision. “The authoritative style functioning of the present government is autocratic and undemocratic. Therefore, taking all the issues into account, my party finally decided to withdraw our support to the BJP government in the state,” the statement reportedly said.
The latest development from the state, according to sources, however, is that NPP MLAs are on their way to Delhi to have a meeting with the party’s national leadership to iron out the creases. The Wire has not been able independently confirm it, although the news agency PTI has also quoted its own sources as having said the same.
Sarma, on June 23, had told reporters at a press meet in Guwahati that “within two to three days a positive result will emerge (from Manipur).”
“The Manipur situation is under control. I will be going there once again and we will be talking to our MLAs. This will be resolved nicely. All discussions are taking place in a positive atmosphere and within two to three days, a positive result will emerge,” he reportedly said.
Sarma also said, “The situation will change since many people are disqualified. There will be major bypolls. Once the Speaker passes any order it cannot be revoked. The architecture of the government will be more or less the same; we will continue with the spirit of NEDA and NDA. We are going to work with a principle of friendship.”
State BJP chief Saikhom Tiken Singh told NDTV, “We agree that there is instability (but) in case of a floor test we will be able to gather the numbers.”
Former state health minister and NPP MLA L. Jayanthkumar had said that though Sangma had tried to convince them, “We have explained our position to him. We will not succumb to any pressure.”
Meanwhile, CBI team is all set to keep Congress’ master strategist Ibobi busy on June 24. The CBI had taken over the case last November at the behest of the Biren Singh government. Around that time, the CBI conducted raids at nine locations including at the residence of Ibobi. The allegation is, Ibobi, as the chairman of Manipur Development Society between June 2009 and July 2017, allegedly misappropriated government funds amounting to Rs 332 crore of the total budgetary allocation of Rs 518 crore along with top officials of the Society.
N. Biren had been a minister in the Ibobi Singh government before moving over to the BJP in 2016.