All eyes on Manipur RS seat amid tussle for power and drama during voting

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There was high drama for the election to the lone Rajya Sabha (RS) in Manipur on Friday amid an ongoing tussle between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress over power-sharing in the politically-volatile north-eastern state.

Manipur assembly Speaker Yumnam Khemchand Singh played a key role, as 52 of the 59 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) were allowed to cast their votes for the two main candidates, the BJP’s Sanajaoba Leishemba, the titular king of Manipur, and the Congress’s T Mangibabu.

Earlier this year, the 60-member assembly was reduced to 59 after BJP MLA, Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh, who had defected to the Congress in 2017, resigned after the Supreme Court (SC) banned him on anti-defection charges.

Though polling in the north-eastern state ended at 4pm, the counting of votes had not started even after 7 pm.

The delay is being attributed to the Congress’s complaints about the irregularities during the voting process and the Election Commission of India (ECI) is believed to be looking into them.

Friday’s voting took place a day after the Congress staked claim to form the state government and two days after nine MLAs including three from the BJP, four from the National People’s Party (NPP), one from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and an Independent withdrew support to the government, challenging the majority of the N Biren Singh-led coalition government.

Earlier in the day, Speaker Singh allowed four of the seven rebel Congress MLAs, who had switched sides to the BJP after the 2017 polls, to vote, but barred the three others.

On June 9, the Manipur high court (HC) had restrained the seven Congress MLAs from entering the assembly till the Speaker disposed of disqualification proceedings against them.

On Thursday, the HC had asked Speaker not to decide on their cases till June 22.

Though the decision on the disqualification of the seven MLAs was to be taken on June 22, the Speaker advanced it to June 17, prompting the Congress to seek his removal the following day.

The names of the three BJP MLAs, who had resigned from the party earlier this week and joined the Congress, were not in the list of voters on Friday.

The TMC legislator, who had withdrawn support to the BJP, was also not allowed to vote, and he has moved the HC.

The Congress demanded that the ECI rejects votes of two MLAs, including that of the Speaker, for allegedly showing their ballot papers to agents present during the polls.

The Congress also alleged that one of its party lawmakers had shown his vote to a BJP representative, which violates the Upper House poll norms.

Meanwhile, several leaders of the Secular Progressive Front (SPF) led by Congress, NPP, TMC and the lone Independent MLA met Governor Najma Heptullah at the Raj Bhawan on Friday evening seeking a special assembly session soon for a trust vote to take place.

“Today Congress has 24 MLAs while the BJP has only 18. Therefore to uphold democracy a trust vote is needed soon,” Manipur Congress spokesperson Ningombam Bupenda Meitei said.

The delegation comprised former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, former Manipur Congress president Gaikhangam and NPP leader Y Joykumar Singh.

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