‘Was lone warrior till 2017’, says ex-minister Thongam Biswajit as BJP’s Manipur CM race heats up

Guwahati: More than a week after the BJP won assembly elections in Manipur with a majority — the party won 32 of 60 seats — the question on every mind is who will it choose for the post of chief minister.

The BJP appointed Union ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and Kiren Rijiju as observer and co-observer for the legislative party leader’s election Monday.

Earlier this week, it was also reported that the BJP central leadership had summoned Manipur’s incumbent CM Biren Singh, who is now in caretaker capacity, and Thongam Biswajit Singh, two-time MLA and a cabinet minister in the previous government, to New Delhi. Manipur BJP chief Sharda Devi and in-charge Sambit Patra would also attend the meeting, the report claimed.

According to sources in the party, both Biren Singh and Biswajit Singh are said to be in the running for the CM’s post. Former state Congress chief Govindas Konthoujam (who joined the BJP in 2021) and assembly speaker Yumnam Khemchand Singh, are also said to be contenders for the post.

In an interview with ThePrint conducted Thursday, Biswajit was reticent about identifying himself as a CM aspirant, and said the decision on who will lead the government in Manipur will be made after Sitharaman and Rijiju’s visit.

Talking about the just-held meeting in Delhi, Biswajit said it had not included any discussion about the CM’s post. “There was no discussion at all, and we had a celebration led by Nadda ji (BJP national president J.P. Nadda) and was attended by the Manipur team. After that we had a review meeting and just discussed the 2024 (Parliament) elections,” he told ThePrint.

However, Biswajit did describe himself as a “lone fighter” for the BJP between 2015, when it first entered the Manipur assembly, and the 2017 elections, when it formed the government in the state for the first time with Biren Singh as CM. “I have worked hard to strengthen the party (in Manipur) and ensured its growth. The party is everything for me,” he added.

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‘Sacrificed CM’s seat’

Thongam Biswajit Singh made his foray into politics in 2012, when he fought the assembly elections on a Trinamool Congress ticket from the Thongju constituency.

Though he won the election, he resigned from the TMC three years into his term as MLA, and joined the BJP. He was subsequently disqualified as MLA by the then assembly speaker under the anti-defection law, but was re-elected in the bypolls from the same assembly seat in 2015.

“I was disqualified because of my work for the BJP. I had started working for the BJP even before I quit TMC,” claimed Biswajit.

In 2015, Khumukcham Joykishan — another TMC turncoat — helped the BJP open its account in Manipur by getting elected to the assembly on the party’s ticket. But Joykishan left the BJP and joined the Congress in 2016.

Biswajit claimed he too was approached by Congress leaders to join the party, but remained true to the BJP.

“I was going around, knocking on everyone’s doors, to join the BJP. I had prepared all this according to the instruction of the national office to break the Congress in Manipur. I did it and brought so many Congressmen into the party,” he said.

Biswajit declined to comment on governance during Biren Singh’s five year tenure as CM (between 2017 and 2022), but claimed, “The present caretaker CM was also brought by me to the BJP. Even though I sacrificed and he became the CM, I always tried to solve the problem, not to create problem.”

Reports of differences between the two leaders have been doing the rounds ever since the former was made Manipur CM in 2017. In a cabinet reshuffle in 2019, Biswajit and deputy CM Yumnam Joykumar Singh of the National People’s Party (a BJP ally in the previous government) were even stripped of the power and finance portfolios, respectively. However, Biswajit was later given back his charge.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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