The BJP top leadership had decided that it would not announce a CM candidate before the elections in Manipur.
The North Eastern state of Manipur is going to the polls in two phases on February 28 and March 5, and the political parties in the state are doing all they can to send the maximum number of their MLAs to the 60-member Assembly. The tussle has been so intense that an outcome stands no chance of being predicted before the counting gets over on March 10.
Even as the unpredictability exists, the Bharatiya Janata Party considers itself as the frontrunners to win the state when the counting draws to a close on March 10. And obviously so, the fight for the Chief Minister’s chair has begun within the party.
The BJP top leadership had earlier on decided that it would not announce a Chief Ministerial candidate before the elections. This has naturally added to the bickering within. Rumours have been flying thick and fast over who would be the next Chief Minister if the BJP manages a win. Many in the party are nursing apprehensions that the BJP top brass would do an Assam in Manipur and go ahead replace incumbent N Biren Singh with a new face.
A quick look at the happenings in Assam last year would make the situation clearer. When the party had returned to power in Assam last year, the party leadership decided to ask incumbent Sarbananda Sonowal to step aside and make way for Himanta Biswa Sarma. The Chief Minister’s seat vacated for Sarma, Sonowal was left with no alternative and had to be roped in as a minister in the Union Cabinet.
No CM face makes it a tough scene
Leaders in Imphal foresee that something similar is bound to happen when the results are out. Though Biren Singh, the incumbent Chief Minister, is wary that he would be shown the door, he doesn’t make it so visible. He has already told the media that it is for the party leadership in Delhi to decide on who would be the next Chief Minister if the party wins in Manipur.
Biren Singh’s stint as Manipur Chief Minister had come as a boon. The BJP had fallen short of majority with the Congress winning seven seats more than the saffron outfit. But then, the BJP had played a shrewd political game and garnered the support of smaller parties such as the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF) and a few others to gain majority and stake claim to form the government. Later on, it also managed to aid a few more Congress MLAs to switch to its fold.
Biren Singh would have to hope for the best
Biren Singh, who is also a former Congress leader, had been thrust with the responsibility of running the coalition government, and all his time had been spent getting rival MLAs to switch over. This time around, when the elections were announced the Congress was left with just 13 legislators, while the BJP strength had grown to 28. Resignations and disqualifications accounted for nine vacant seats too.
Also, the party had denied tickets to its leaders while offering seats to former Congress leaders who came to its fold post 2017. This has upset many, with a bunch of them leaving the party.
With Biren Singh’s role also redundant for the party, a new Chief Minister would most likely take his place if the BJP wins. Many feel Biren Singh should stay, but there are others who think it’s time for him to make way for another. This brings Biren Singh’s deputy in the state cabinet, Th Biswajit, as the man who could possibly replace him. The scene becomes even murkier with Biren and Biswajit always at loggerheads. Also doing the rounds is the name of Govindas Konthoujam, a former Manipur Congress president who joined the BJP recently. It will be a difficult proposition for the party to zero in on one single name if it wins Manipur.