Riled over Manipur RS polls, Cong to take battle with BJP to court

Condemning win BJP candidate Leishemba Sanajaoba to the lone RS seat, Congress says the Speaker’s disqualification of MLAs minutes before the polls was unlawful and violated democratic norms

Congress MLA Okram Henry (in blue shirt) with CM Biren Singh and newly elected RS member Leishemba Sanajaoba. Henry is the nephew of former CM and CLP leader Okram Ibobi Singh. The Federal photo

The political crisis in Manipur is heading for a legal tussle with the Congress deciding to challenge the BJP’s controversial victory in the state’s lone Rajya Sabha seat on Friday (June 19).

The party is also taking legal advice to file a contempt petition against the Speaker for what it called “engineering” the BJP candidate’s victory, “violating” a court order.

“We will move the court by Monday, challenging the election of Leishemba Sanajaoba to the Rajya Sabha and will also explore legal options to file a contempt petition against the speaker (Yumnam Khemchand Singh),” Manipur Pradesh Congress president Moirangthem Okendro Singh told The Federal.

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Related news: BJP candidate wins lone RS seat in Manipur after Congress MLAs cross-vote

BJP nominee Sanajaoba, the state’s titular king, won the election managing 28 votes against 24 secured by the Congress’s T Mangibabu.

The victory was preceded by a high voltage drama in which the speaker allowed three MLAs facing disqualification under anti-defection law to vote, and disqualified four others facing a similar charge.

Khemchand Singh also disqualified the lone TMC member in the House T Robindro Singh, who had pledged support to the Congress.

The ground for Robindro Singh’s disqualification was a petition filed against him by BJP MLA Th. Satyabrata under the anti-defection law. Satyabrata claimed that Robindro had merged with the BJP during the formation of the present coalition government.

The crux of the Congress’s legal argument being prepared is that the speaker’s decision to disqualify MLAs when voting for the Rajya Sabha seat was just about to begin, was not only “blatant violation of all democratic norms” but also unlawful.

They would point out before the court that seven MLAs were facing the same charge, but the speaker gave two different rulings in the same case. Further, TMC’s Robindro was disqualified though he was not facing any disqualification case, the Congress would argue.

“We are also contemplating filing a separate contempt petition against the speaker for allowing three MLAs, who had defected from the Congress, to vote, violating an earlier court order,” Okendro Singh said.

On Friday, the eve of the Rajya Sabha election, the Manipur High Court had directed the speaker not to pronounce any order on the disqualification case under the anti-defection law pending against the seven defectors to avoid complications.

The seven MLAs are Sanasam Bira Singh, Ginsuanhau, Oinam Lukhoi Singh, Ngamthang Haokip, Yengkhom Surchandra Singh, K Biren Singh and Paonam Brojen Singh.

They had defected soon after the first BJP-led coalition government was formed in Manipur in March, 2017.

Related news: BJP’s RS nomination of titular king spurs political crisis in Manipur

The seven were also barred by the Manipur high court earlier on June 8 from entering the assembly until the disqualification petitions against them were disposed of by the Speaker.

The court in its order had also observed that the speaker had failed to decide on the petitions filed by the petitioners from the Congress party on November 8, 2018 within a “reasonable time.”

Okendro Singh claimed the speaker by allowing the three to vote violated the court’s order.

The four others were disqualified reportedly because they had come back to the Congress’s fold in the wake of the latest political upheaval.

Just a day before the Rajya Sabha election, nine MLAs, including three BJP legislators, had withdrawn their support from the N Biren Singh-led National Democratic Alliance government and switched over to the Congress camp.

The changeover had depleted the ruling BJP-led NDA’s strength to 23. The Secular Progressive Front (SPF), an alliance cobbled together after the latest bout of defection by the Congress, the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) claimed the support of 26 legislators even without counting the three BJP turncoats who had resigned their  MLA seats and joined the Congress.

But in the ultimate count, Sanajaoba had 18 votes from BJP MLAs, four from the Naga People’s Front (NPF), three from the group of seven, one from the Lok Janshakti Party and two due to cross-voting from the Congress.

Interestingly, RK Imo Singh, one of the Congress legislators who cross-voted, is the son-in-law of chief minister Biren Singh.  The other MLA Okram Henry is the nephew of the Congress Legislator Party (CLP) leader and former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.

Henry is facing trial in a drug smuggling case. The CBI filing a chargesheet against him in the drug seizure case was made an election issue by the BJP in 2017 to nail then chief minister Ibobi Singh.

BJP state president S Tikendra Singh on Saturday said the BJP winning the RS seat clearly showed the party has the majority in the House and that the Congress’s demand for the no-confidence motion against the BJP government did not hold water anymore.

Related news: Deputy chief minister, 3 ministers resign from BJP-led govt in Manipur

The Congress state president, however, refused to accept the BJP’s claim that the Rajya Sabha elections had effectively displayed the assembly strength of the two coalitions. He said along with waging the legal battle the Congress would continue to push for the no confidence motion against the Biren Singh government.

Okendro Singh, Okram Ibobi Singh, senior Congress leaders G Gaikhangam and TN Haokip and others had marathon video conferences with the party’s legal eagle Kapil Sibal and two AICC observers Ajay Maken and Gaurav Gogoi on Saturday.

In between the conferences, Okendro Singh told The Federal over the phone from Imphal, “The battle is not yet over.”

On Sunday, the BJP too ratcheted up its battle preparedness by rushing in its trouble-shooter for Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sharma, to Manipur. Sharma, who is also the Health Minister of Assam, rushed to Imphal with Meghalaya chief minister and NPP supremo Conrad Sangma in a chartered plane around 1 pm.

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