The political pot in Manipur continues to be on the boil with one more Bharatiya Janata Party legislator resigning from his official post earlier this week.
On April 24, Khwairakpam Raghumani, who was elected from the Uripok constituency last year, quit as the chairman of the Manipur Renewable Energy Development Agency. In the process, Raghumani became the fourth BJP MLA to resign from the N Biren Singh-led Manipur government in less than two weeks.
While party insiders insist there is no immediate threat to the government, observers say the string of resignations indicates signs of discord within the government and dissent against Singh. To make matters worse, the resignations come at a difficult time for the BJP-led government which is having to contend with significant tribal discontent over a range of issues.
A string of resignations
The crisis started with the resignation of legislator Thokchom Radhesyam who quit his post of advisor to the chief minister on April 13. Radhesyam, who was also part of the cabinet in the previous term, said in a letter to the chief minister that he had resigned as he had “not been given any responsibility so far.”
Days later, on April 17, another legislator from the saffron party, Karam Shyam, resigned from the chairmanship of Tourism Corporation Manipur Limited. In his letter announcing the decision, he echoed Radheshyam saying that he had “not been assigned any responsibility”.
Then came Paonam Brojen who quit the chairmanship of Manipur Development Society on “personal grounds” on April 20.
With speculation running wild, the state of the party unit convened a meeting on April 21 where Chief Minister Singh asserted that there was “no crisis”.
A day later, though, Raghumani quit. In his resignation letter, he said his continuance in the role he was assigned was “not called for, at this juncture”.
An ongoing crisis
The upheaval continues to play out.
Several BJP MLAs are currently camping in Delhi, reportedly awaiting an audience with the party’s central leadership. Their agenda: to apprise the leadership of their grievances against Singh who they say was “imposed [on them] without taking their opinions.”
One of them, speaking over the phone from Delhi, told Scroll that their main objections to the Chief Minister stemmed from his “dictatorial leadership, family politics, lack of honour and integrity”.
They claimed that “about 24-25 BJP MLAs are dissatisfied with Biren”.
“The central leadership must take the opinion of MLAs in private, as most are fearful of Biren’s vindictive politics,” they said. “They perceive Biren to be favoured by the Centre.”
The legislator also accused the Chief Minister of “favouring his family and friends’’. The legislator was training their gun on Singh’s son-in-law Rajkumar Imo Singh.
They said, “RK Imo threatens BJP MLAs who air their discontent on social media with disciplinary action.”
Trying to ‘destabilise the government’
Imo Singh, for his part, contested these allegations in a Facebook post. He wrote, “One may complain and take the dispute against the leader of the govt/party/minister to the appropriate authority, but not take that dispute to the media as that amounts to attract [sic] disciplinary action being taken up against the complainant.”
The Chief Minister’s aides also came to his defence.
The renegade MLAs were trying to “destabilise the government for their personal ambitions”, said a BJP MLA considered close to Singh. The MLA said the dissident legislators had ministerial ambitions.
The BJP’s state unit spokesperson, Chingangbam Chidananda Singh, played down the churn. Biren Singh’s government, he pointed out, had the support of 55 legislators in the 60-seater Assembly. “There is no threat to the government or leadership,” he said.
Allegations of ‘autocracy’
Yet, this is not the first time that Biren Singh’s leadership has come under scrutiny. In his previous term as chief minister, too, there were rumblings of dissent and murmurs about his supposedly “autocratic” ways abounded.
However, he is known to have the confidence of the BJP’s central leadership.
Observers said the current upheaval arose from Biren’s attempts to “centralise” power. “Biren is trying to keep everybody in his control and he is not giving power to anybody else,” said veteran Imphal-based journalist Pradip Phanjoubam.
Problem of plenty?
Others said the Chief Minister was plagued by “a problem of plenty” which he did not know how to handle. “There will be many MLAs who will support the government in the hope they will be rewarded but there is hardly anything he can offer,” said a senior journalist from the state, requesting anonymity.
Currently, apart from the 32 MLAs who won the 2022 Assembly election on a BJP ticket, the government is supported by five legislators from the Janata Dal (United) who “merged” with the saffron party soon after being elected. That apart, 17 other legislators officially back the government.
Trouble in the hills
The timing of the turbulence, some say, also suggests that it may be linked to the Manipur government’s ongoing troubles with some of the tribal communities in the state. The Kukis, who largely reside in the state’s hills, in particular, have been at loggerheads with the state government of late.
In March, an eviction drive in some Kuki villages resulted in violence, leading to the state government calling off a peace pact with some armed groups from the community. The episode evoked strong responses from sections of the Kuki community who alleged the government of being biased against them.
It has been reported that the current rebellion has the support of several Kuki legislators, many of whom are currently in Delhi.
The BJP MLA, quoted earlier in the article, also referred to these tensions.
“The areas and settlements inhabited by two communities, Kukis and Muslims, have been specifically targeted by the government,” they said. “Such divide and rule policy is harmful to the state as well as the party”.