India

Rebel MLAs Flown To Guwahati As BJP Scrambles To Stay In Power In Manipur

Rebel MLAs Flown To Guwahati As BJP Scrambles To Stay In Power In Manipur

In Manipur, Chief Minister Biren Singh's BJP-led government is on the brink of collapse (File)

Kolkata:

The four MLAs of Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma's NPP, whose agreement with the Congress brought the BJP-led Manipur government to the brink of collapse, were taken to Guwahati on Tuesday, along with their party chief, for urgent discussions with the BJP's senior leaders.

A CBI team, meanwhile, flew into Imphal to question Congress leader and former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh over an alleged Rs 332 crore scam. Mr Singh had met the Manipur Governor and staked claim to the government after nine MLAs, including three from the BJP, withdrew support to Chief Minister N Biren Singh.

The numbers do not look good for the Biren Singh government. Sources have said he may be replaced to save the NDA government in Manipur.

A deal with the Manipur unit of the NPP, which has blamed the rift on the BJP's alleged high-handed ways, has been worked out, sources added. It will, however, need to be approved by the BJP's central leadership.

The MLAs who were moved to Guwahati late Tuesday evening were accompanied by Mr Sangma, whose party has been anti-Congress since inception, and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the BJP's chief trouble-shooter in the northeast.

"With cautious approach we will be able to resolve this. They (the NPP MLAs) have certain issues that I cannot resolve at my level. Some difference of opinions keep coming up. So the next round of discussions will happen in Delhi with my senior colleagues," Mr Sarma told reporters at Imphal airport.

The moving of the MLAs to Guwahati comes after they met with Mr Sangma and Mr Sarma for several hours in an attempt to resolve issues between them.

On Monday Mr Sarma described the Manipur situation as "under control".

"This will be resolved nicely. All discussions are taking place in a positive atmosphere and, within two or three days, a positive result will emerge," he had said.

The Biren Singh government had been on thin ice since June 17, when nine MLAs quit.

The BJP won the Rajya Sabha vote the very next day - there was seat on offer - but it was a victory sealed by the Speaker's last-minute decision to allow three Congress MLAs facing disqualification to vote, or so the Congress claimed.

That setback is now an opportunity for the Congress - the three formerly disqualified MLAs have shored up its strength in the Assembly and will have to vote in line with the whip if there is a trust vote.

The Congress, backed by allies from the newly-formed Secular Progressive Front, now has 29 seats in the 60-member Assembly. The BJP-led NDA government has 22.

That the BJP is worried is clear. Not only did the party send Himanta Biswa Sarma, but National General Secretary Ram Madhav is also camping out in an Imphal hotel.

The rebel NPP MLAs, who Congress sources say remain committed to the SPF, have said they want the BJP-led government to "change its attitude". Those reading between the lines have said what they really want is a "change of chief minister".

Meanwhile, the CBI team is expected to question former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and remain in Imphal to question others accused in a FIR filed in the Manipur Development Society scam.

Some sources claim the questioning is part of an ongoing investigation that began in November last year. This is the first time Mr Singh will be questioned in this case.