Fence-sitters Eye a Windfall
Suspense over the Congress high command’s choice for CM is muddying the waters in Imphal, says Kunal Majumder
THE RESULTS of the Manipur Assembly election are some weeks away but horse-trading has already begun. Tapes of alleged conversation of a Delhi-based journalist with a Cabinet minister and a key Congress leader reveal plans to buy the support of Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLAs to form the government. While TEHELKA could not independently verify the authenticity of the tapes, senior politicians accept that such activity will only increase once the results are out on 6 March.
That wheeling-dealing will be the order of the day is inevitable because internal sources in the state Congress say that, realistically, they can expect only around 20 seats (down from 30 right now) in the 60-member Assembly. The party itself is divided into two camps — one for Chief Minister Ibobi Singh and one against.
The anti-Ibobi Singh faction has still not decided on its leader. It could be either Pradesh Congress Committee President Gaikhangam Gangmei or senior Cabinet minister Y Erabot Singh. “Until the high command reveals its preference for the future chief minister, both the groups will try to show that the maximum number of MLAs are with them,” says a Congress leader who didn’t want to be named
Sangai Express Editor Rajesh Hijam says the infighting began even before the election when they pitted proxy candidates against each other. “Now it is rampant,” he says.
Outside the party, the demand for MLAs from fence-sitting parties like the TMC, the Manipur State Congress Party and the Communist Party of India is expected to be high. While Hijam refused to speculate over the going rate of MLAs, Imphal Free Press Resident Editor Irenbam Arun says that in the previous election, it was around Rs 1 crore. “This time it could be higher. The problem is not that parties want to buy MLAs. It is the MLAs who want to be bought,” he says.
The picture might change if the TMC gets a substantial number of seats. “If the TMC emerges as the kingmaker, it will be in a position to dictate terms to the Congress,” says Hijam. However, TMC sources say that the party will never align with Ibobi Singh. “We fought the election against Ibobi, so there is no way we will accept him as the chief minister of a coalition,” says a senior TMC leader who didn’t want to be named. Congress leaders in the anti-Ibobi Singh camp also point out the high command has not been entirely happy with the two-term chief minister.
So will we see more horse-trading led by different chief minister hopefuls in the coming weeks? As things stand, the answer is a certain ‘yes’.
Kunal Majumder is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.