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Updated: April 29, 2012 23:32 IST

Even after Cabinet expansion, Ibobi is not out of the woods

Iboyaima Laithangbam
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Okram Ibobi Singh. File Photo: PTI
PTI Okram Ibobi Singh. File Photo: PTI

Trouble brews for CM as many leaders have been left out of Ministry

Okram Ibobi Singh, scripted history by becoming Manipur's Chief Minister for the third consecutive time in the January 28 elections, but dissensions and groupism continue to torment him.

The Congress won 42 seats in the 60-member House, from where he can choose 12 Ministers for his Cabinet.

He was sworn in on March 14.

That he faced pulls and pressures were clear from the fact that he alone took the oath that day. Then, he inducted three Ministers on March 16: Thoudam Devendra, Phungzathang Tonsing, both served as Ministers in his previous Ministry, and Pradesh Congress Committee president G. Gaikhangam, a strong contender for the leadership.

The second and final Cabinet expansion came about on April 28, with the induction of eight Ministers. The inordinate delay was attributed to the tug of war between Mr. Ibobi Singh and Mr. Gaikhangam, who wanted their supporters in the Cabinet.

For various considerations, it was not easy for Mr. Ibobi Singh to cherry-pick the eight Ministers. As a long-term plan to oust him, his detractors wanted their supporters in the Ministry. The Chief Minister would have liked to maintain status quo ante, since the senior Ministers, who worked with him for the past 10 years, proved their mettle and loyalty.

But some factors torpedoed his plan.

Manipur People's Party president Nimachichand Luwang says one Minister had shot and wounded N. Khoteswor, the then Advocate-General, while the CBI charge-sheeted the son of another Minister for allegedly shooting to death a youth. Some Ministers ensured the defeat of the Congress candidates in some constituencies with a view to wresting the leadership from Mr. Ibobi Singh.

On the other hand, the first-timers had ganged up with Mr. Gaikhangam. They moved the high command seeking to make Mr. Gaikhangam the leader. By denying Cabinet slots to senior leaders — Mr. Devendra and Mr. Tonsing — the Chief Minister played into the hands of Mr. Gaikhangam. Mr. Ibobi Singh has been pacifying the other aspirants, claiming that he would reshuffle the Ministry in two-and-a-half years.

Offended by their exclusion from the Cabinet, the former Ministers and other party heavyweights did not attend Saturday's swearing-in ceremony.

Interestingly, Chandel and Ukhrul districts are not represented in the Ministry; the tribals in these districts are not amused. The Congress candidates had contested the elections in these districts at great personal risk, as armed men attacked them. Even polling and security personnel were killed in Chandel. Those candidates who defeated the nominees of the Naga People's Front, a Nagaland-based party, feel slighted. This will come in handy for the Naga organisations that have been launching campaigns against Mr. Ibobi Singh to portray him as an “anti-Naga leader.”

Nineteen Opposition MLAs wanted to be on the Congress ticket in the run-up to the elections. But Mr. Gaikhangam said nominating them would go against the party's rules. Mr. Ibobi Singh's detractors knew that if these MLAs were elected, they would support him. However, MPP MLAs N. Bijoy and R.K. Anand joined the Congress only a few days before the elections and were readily nominated. But they were denied Cabinet slots, to the glee of Mr. Ibobi Singh's detractors.

The Chief Minister has promised some aspirants the posts of parliamentary secretaries and chairmen of boards and corporations. So far, there have been no takers. In the past, one Chief Minister — W. Nipamacha — had accommodated ruling party members in the Cabinet and other government bodies. But he could not complete his full term.

The coming days will be interesting to watch, since Mr. Ibobi Singh is not out of the woods, despite the numerical superiority of the Congress.

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