Four MLAs of the National People's Party in Manipur who were flown from state capital Imphal to Guwahati in Assam were today taken to Delhi for talks with the top BJP leadership, a week after they quit the BJP-led coalition government in the northeast state and paved the way for a serious bid by the Congress to topple it.
The move came on a day a team of the Central Bureau of Investigation flew into Imphal to question Congress leader and former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh in an alleged Rs 332 crore scam.
Ibobi Singh is leading the bid to topple the government led by BJP leader and Chief Minister N Biren Singh. The former chief minister last week called for a floor test against Biren Singh.
The numbers don't look good for Biren Singh. Manipur has a 60-member assembly. Dramatic developments since June 17 have left the NDA alliance with 22 and the Congress alliance with 29 MLAs. Three BJP MLAs have resigned and five Congress and one Trinamool Congress MLAs have been disqualified.
The BJP's northeast troubleshooter based in Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, met the four National People's Party or NPP MLAs in Imphal along with NPP leader and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma before shepherding them away.
"We had a very productive discussion with NPP. I also had a discussion with others supporting us from the very beginning. I think that step by step we will be able to resolve the issue. I cannot resolve it at my level. That's why they want to continue the next round of discussion in Delhi, which will also be attended by my senior colleagues. We will try to resolve it there," Mr Sarma said at Imphal airport.
A key demand by the 4 NPP MLAs is a change of chief minister as they are upset with Biren Singh's alleged "high-handedness", sources have said. On whether big changes are likely to happen in the coalition government in a bid to save it, Mr Sarma said on Sunday, "The spirit of the NDA or the North East Democratic Alliance will remain, but there may be some changes in the architecture."
Analysts have read between the lines to suggest Biren Singh may be sacrificed.
The crisis in the Biren Singh government has been brewing for some time, but triggered on June 17 when nine ruling coalition MLAs - three from the BJP, four from NPP, one from Trinamool Congress and one Independent - quit the government and joined hands with the Congress to form a new platform called Secular Progressive Front or SPF.
That day itself, Ibobi Singh met with Governor Najma Heptulla to demand a special assembly session so that a no-confidence motion could be moved against the government. The next day, despite the turbulent numbers in the assembly, the BJP managed to win the only Rajya Sabha seat from Manipur.
Congress leaders camping in Imphal complained to the Election Commission about irregularities. Two MLAs allegedly "showed" ballot papers to "unauthorised persons" during the vote, the Congress said.
The only Trinamool MLA who quit the government was disqualified from voting. But the key move that swung the vote for the BJP Rajya Sabha candidate was the Speaker's last minute decision to allow three out of seven Congress MLAs to vote, though all seven are disqualified and barred from entering the assembly.
The matter is in the Manipur High Court and the court has ordered the Speaker to resolve it, but only after the Rajya Sabha election.
Earlier this year, an eighth Congress MLA facing the same charges was disqualified by the Supreme Court.