On the counting day, after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) massive victory in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand and impressive show in Uttarakhand, senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor had words of advice for the BJP leadership. He tweeted that the BJP was in power in two of the five states where elections were held and it lost both and therefore the party ‘shouldn’t be too complacent for 2019’ when the next parliamentary polls will be held.
But it seems, the Congress leadership got complacent with the poll results as it failed to move before the BJP in staking claims to form governments even if Amit Shah, the BJP president, had announced on the counting day that the BJP was going to form government in four states, i.e., Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.
Even though Digvijay Singh, Goa in-charge of the Congress party, has been camping in Goa, the party failed to make its move and arrange numbers to stake claim.
While the Congress was still contemplating its moves, the BJP met Goa Governor Mridula Sinha with a list 21 MLAs to stake its claim to form the government in the state. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has resigned from the union cabinet. The Goa Governor has invited him to take oath tomorrow and prove majority in the Goa assembly in 15 days. He had resigned from the CM position in November 2014 to join Narendra Modi’s union cabinet. This will be his fourth term as Goa’s chief minister. His first two terms were from 2000 to 2002 and from 2002 to 2005.
The BJP, the incumbents in the state, won 13 assembly seats this time, four less than Congress’ 17. To prove majority in the 40-member Goa House, support of 21 members is needed. Congress needed four MLAs to scale the gap while the BJP needed eight. And the BJP arranged its eight before the Congress could garner support of four MLAs.
The BJP claims to have support of three MLAs each of the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) and the Goa Forward Party (GFP), two independents and lone NCP MLA. Then there are reports that some Congress MLAs are ready to defect to join the BJP. That the Congress has resigned to its fate becomes clear from the development where its Goa in-charge Digvijay Singh, who was claiming to form the government, was quoted saying that the Congress was ready to sit in Opposition if the BJP had the numbers.
The Congress’ hara-kiri here is evident from the fact that some of the newly elected Congress MLAs have the blamed the senior Congress leaders of ‘indecisiveness’ even if it had the mandate to stake the claim first, an unacceptable delay that gave the BJP enough time to play its cards. Congress Valopi MLA Vishwajit Rane, who is son of former CM Pratapsingh Rane, is feeling so disgusted that he had decided to leave the party saying he is ‘disillusioned’ with the party after its shameful handling of the mandate.
In its last ditch effort, the Congress has moved to the Supreme Court challenging the invitation to Manohar Parrikar to form the government and the Supreme Court has agreed for an emergency hearing tomorrow before Parrikar’s oath-taking ceremony at 5 PM. But the Constitution is silent on whether the Governor can call the second largest party or not in case of a hung assembly scenario and it is left of his discretion and wisdom to ensure that a stable government is formed, be it by the single largest party or a coalition of other parties.
Manipur is the second state that is likely to slip from the Congress fold. The BJP legislature party has elected N Biren Singh as its leader and the party, along with its allies, are soon going to meet Najma Heptulla, the Manipur Governor, to stake claim to form the government.
The Congress has been in power in the state since 2002 and even this time it has emerged as the largest party winning 28 seats in the 60-member house. But the BJP’s performance is stunning here. The party that had not been able to open its account in the last polls in 2012, has emerged as the second largest party in this polls, winning 21 seats. But what is more remarkable is the fact that its vote share at 36.3% is more than Congress’ 35.1%, something that gives it the largest representation in the state. From 2.12% in 2012 to 36.3% in 2017, this is huge.
And thanks to the indecisiveness shown by the Congress here as well, the swift moves made by the BJP have created very real chances where Imphal could have a BJP government next.
Both the BJP and the Congress are making claims and counterclaims. But certainly, the BJP has outsmarted the Congress in making first moves, be it parading the supporting MLAs before the Governor or holding joint presser with the National People’s Party (NPP). Both, the BJP and the Congress, claim support of four NPP MLAs but Conrad Sangma, the NPP chief, has denied the Congress claims.
In the 60-member strong Manipur legislative assembly, a simple house majority needs support of 31 MLAs.
After the BJP met the Governor and paraded 32 MLAs yesterday, including four each of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the NPP, lone MLA of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), lone TMC MLA and a Congress MLA who defected, Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, like waking up from a slumber, rushed to the Governor House to stake claim. He showed a letter with names of four NPP legislators in Congress’ support. The BJP has dismissed the letter as it was not on official letterhead. The letter claim was later debunked by the NPP. Also, the BJP had held a joint press conference with the NPP before meeting the Governor and the NPP had announced that it would go with the anti-Congress grouping in the Manipur assembly.
To make matters worse for the Congress, it is believed that the Governor has asked Ibobi Singh to parade the four NPP MLAs before to validate his claims, something that looks an improbable task now after the BJP has firmed up numbers in its favour. Then there are reports that around a dozen Congress MLAs are ready to defect to the BJP fold.
Whether the Congress will move to the Supreme Court in the Manipur case depends on what respite it gets from the Supreme Court tomorrow with its Goa petition. If the Supreme Court puts a stay on Parrikar’s oath-taking ceremony, Manipur will also see a prolonged uncertainty till the apex court finally comes with a definitive interpretation. But if we go by the interpretation of the experts, inviting the largest party is more of a convention and the Governor is not bound to follow it if another political formation convinces him of having the required numbers.