Nongthombam Biren Singh, a former national level soccer player, is the BJP’s choice for chief minister in Manipur, the party has announced, ending two days of speculations and a string of closed-door meetings since a split verdict in the northeastern state.
A former minister in the Congress government led by Okram Ibobi Singh, 56-year-old Biren Singh will be the first BJP chief minister of Manipur if the party forms the next government.
Manipur will be the third state in the region under the BJP since its victory in Assam last year and underline the party’s growing acceptance in the northeast, for long a Congress stronghold barring Tripura, a Left bastion.
“After extensive consultations and discussions….N Biren Singh has been elected unanimously as the leader of the party,” senior party leader and Union minister Piyush Goyal told journalists on Tuesday evening.
Singh’s name was proposed by party MLA Th Biswajeet Singh and seconded by legislators Radhey Shyam Singh, Nemcha Kipgen and Vungzagin Valte.
Soon after his election, Biren and other BJP MLAs met governor Najma Heptulla at the Raj Bhawan and presented a list of legislators supporting a BJP-led coalition to stake the party’s claim to form the next government.
Incumbent chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh too met the Governor nearly an hour after the BJP and submitted his resignation. He reiterated the party’s claim to form to the next government as it is the single largest in the assembly.
All eyes are now on the Raj Bhawan to see which side—the BJP-led coalition with 32 MLAs or the single largest party Congress with 28 legislators---would get the invitation to form the next government. It is expected the governor would invite one of the two parties, most probably on Tuesday.
Biren was elected after a four-hour-long meeting of BJP’s 21 newly elected MLAs in the presence of senior leaders Piyush Goyal, Prakash Javadekar and Vinay Sahasrabuddhe who reached Imphal on Monday.
“It is a great challenge (for me). I left Congress because of mis-governance. The BJP has to give (good) governance to the people of Manipur who have given a mandate for change,” Biren said soon after his name was announced.
Biren Singh was also a journalist before joining politics.
He resigned from the Congress in October to join the BJP and played a key role in the party’s electoral success where its figure rose from zero in 2012 to 21 this time.
Since the BJP hadn’t announced the name of their chief minister candidate ahead of the polls there were speculations and politicking on who would get the top post once it became clear the party could form the next government.
Biren’s selection was made easier by the electoral defeats of T Chaoba Singh and Y Erabot Singh, two senior leaders and potential chief minister candidates.
“We have the support of three parties, Naga Peoples’ Front (4), National People’s Party (4), Lok Janshakti Party (1) and certain other newly elected MLAs. We have an absolute majority in the assembly and N Biren Singh will be the new chief minister of Manipur,” said Goyal.
The BJP and allies like NPP had met the governor on Sunday night and presented a list of 32 MLAs including Congress legislator T Shyam Kumar and the only All India Trinamool Congress MLA, T Robindro Singh.
Manipur assembly has 60 members and a party or coalition needs to have 31 legislators to form government. Congress, which has 28 MLAs, had also staked claim to form government on Sunday—hours after the BJP met the governor.
Earlier in the day, incumbent chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh announced his decision to resign from his post.
Ibobi had said on Monday that none of their 28 MLAs have switched sides to the BJP camp, and since Congress is the single largest party, the governor should invite it first and let it prove majority with a floor test in the House.
In a separate development, NPF denied rumours that the party’s state unit had put forth pre-conditions before joining the BJP-led coalition.
The party with 4 MLAs had made it clear on Saturday it would support any non-Congress government in Manipur. There were speculations in Imphal on Monday that its legislators could move to Congress side.