Hectic backroom parleys on to save Manipur's BJP-led govt

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The Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition scrambled to save its government in Manipur Sunday with two senior leaders flying into Imphal to talk to rebel legislators whose resignation pushed the alliance to the brink of collapse late last week.

Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma and senior Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma arrived in the afternoon on a chartered flight.

Sarma played a crucial role in cobbling together the coalition after the 2017 assembly election and is the convenor of the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), of which Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP) is a part.

A senior leader said that the two leaders met the rebel NPP leaders to convince them to come back into the BJP fold.

Last Wednesday, nine MLAs-- three from BJP, all four from NPP, one from the Trinamool Congress and one independent -- withdrew support to the N Biren Singh government. The BJP lawmakers later joined the Congress but it is not clear whether they will attract proceedings under the anti-defection law.

A new coalition led by the Congress, called the Secular Progressive Front, has staked claim to power. “I heard Sangma and Sarma are in Imphal today. Their presence will have no impact even if the CM is replaced. The only solution is Congress-led SPF government,” Manipur Congress spokesperson Ningombam Bupenda Meitei said.

In 2017, the Congress won 28 seats and the BJP 21, but the latter quickly cobbled together a coalition and staked claim to power. Later, eight Congress rebels joined the BJP.

In the 60-member House, the BJP has 18 members, and the Congress has 20. The BJP currently enjoys the support of four Naga People’s Front legislators and one Lok Janshakti Party member. The fate of seven rebel MLAs who joined BJP from the Congress hangs in the balance after the Manipur high court barred them from the assembly until the speaker took a call on their disqualification. An eighth member resigned after a Supreme Court order. So, effective strength of the House is 52.

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