Factionalism, problem of plenty and a brewing revolt ail Manipur BJP

While the party anticipates a full blow rebellion once it announces candidates for the assembly polls due to strong undercurrent against CM Biren Singh’s leadership, experts say it may follow the Assam model by going to the polls without announcing a chief ministerial candidate

Since taking over charge as chief minister in 2017, Biren Singh, a Congress turncoat, has faced quite a few challenges to his leadership from within the party as well as from his government’s alliance partners.

A viral video showing Manipur’s BJP youth president being whisked away from agitated party workers by firing shots in the air last week, has laid bare the party’s problem of plenty and reopened an existing rift.

With five to 10 aspirants vying for the BJP ticket in almost every constituency for the February-March assembly elections, the party decided to conduct an opinion poll among its workers to identify “acceptable” candidates.

Many within the party see the exercise as an attempt to deny tickets to those who are not in the good books of Chief Minister N Biren Singh. The suspicion is even at the root of infighting witnessed in the BJP’s Bishnupur district committee office last week.

Pandemonium broke out when BJYM state president M Barish Sharma, known to be close to Biren Singh, went to conduct the opinion poll in Bishnupur district, which has six assembly constituencies, as “returning officer”.

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Also read: Manipur polls: BJP edgy but Congress in disarray

Supporters of BJP’s Moirang legislator P Saratchandra objected to the list of voters presented by the BJYM president to conduct the opinion poll.

The MLA’s office in a letter to the BJP state president A Sharda Devi, stated that the list of voters produced by the BJYM president was not approved by the concerned BJP Bishnupur Mandal and not signed by any of the state officials.

Saratchandra, a retired bureaucrat turned politician, is a Biren-Singh baiter in the party.

During the revolt against the chief minister in 2019, Saratchandra had even told the media that Singh did not enjoy the support of 14 of the party’s 21 MLAs as his government failed to deliver on the promises made to the people.

The existing rift within the party might turn into a full blown rebellion once it announces its candidates for the two-phased elections, some BJP leaders admit in private, much to the delight of the opposition.

“The tussle that will ensue after the BJP announces its candidates from among its numerous ticket seekers will sink the party,” claimed Congress MLA Akoijam Mirabai Devi at a recent public meeting.

Since taking over charge as chief minister in 2017, Biren Singh, a Congress turncoat, has faced quite a few challenges to his leadership from within the party as well as from his government’s alliance partners.

Considering this strong undercurrent against Singh’s leadership, the BJP is so far shying away from officially announcing him as the party’s chief ministerial candidate. According to some BJP insiders, the party might follow the Assam model in Manipur too.

The BJP went to the poll in Assam last year without making incumbent chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal its face. After the party returned to power, Sonowal was replaced by Himanta Biswa Sarma as chief minister.

The BJP’s alliance partner in the state government – the National People’s Party (NPP) – has decided not to have any truck with the saffron party in the ensuing assembly elections. It has decided to contest alone 40-45 of the state’s 60 assembly seats. The BJP is also planning to put up candidates in 45-50 seats.

The NPP which has four MLAs in the outgoing assembly had withdrawn support from the Biren Singh-led coalition government in 2020. Alleging that the approach of the chief minister was “authoritarian”, three BJP MLAs had also resigned then.

The government survived the crucial trust vote only after the NPP changed its mind following the intervention of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The patch-up however failed to completely address the discontentment against Biren Singh. Barely three months ago, BJP’s national president J P Nadda had summoned Biren Singh, Sharda Devi and a senior minister Th. Biswajit Singh to New Delhi to iron out the differences within the party unit.

Also read: Entire northeast will become major driver of India’s growth: Modi

Biswajit Singh is projected by many BJP leaders in Manipur as a possible replacement for Biren Singh.

Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Biswajit was instrumental in bringing Biren into the BJP fold in October 2016, a few months ahead of assembly elections. Even at that point of time, Biswajit was a frontrunner for the top job.

Amidst the simmering power tussle, the BJP’s biggest worry is to pick the right candidate without triggering a rebellion.

 

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