In a dramatic late night coup, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday brought out its trump card to cobble up the requisite number to "stake claim" for government formation in Manipur.
In an informal show of strength before Governor Najma Heptulla, the BJP, led by its north east in-charge Ram Madhav and Himanta Biswa Sarma, paraded 32 MLAs supporting the party.
The legislators included Congress MLA from Andro Shyam Kumar and the lone Trinamool Congress MLA in the state Robindro Singh.
"Robindra ji from TMC and Shyam Kumar ji from Congress has come on board. Many more are on their way tomorrow. We are well aware of the law (anti-defection) and yet they have chosen to support us. You all were asking us if we have 31 MLAs but we have shown you 32 here," announced NEDA Convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma outside Raj Bhawan.
"Tomorrow BJP legislators will chose their leader and then he will come and stake claim," Biswa added.
REACHING THE MAGIC NUMBER
In the 60-seat Manipur assembly, the magic figure to form government is 31. BJP, which has 21 MLAs of its own claimed it has the formal support of a total of 30 MLAs with 4 National Peoples Party (NPP), 4 Naga Peoples Front (NPF) and one Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) pledging their support.
Before meeting the Governor, the party held a press conference with NPP chief Conrad Sangma and its four MLAs along with the lone LJP legislator. The NPF had already issued a statement on Saturday that it will go with any anti-Congress formation in the state.
However, despite the BJP's claim, confusion remained over who will be the crucial 31st MLA whose support is necessary to stake claim. "We have the requisite numbers. With the support of a few others we will successfully prove our strength on the floor of the house," Ram Madhav claimed, refusing to divulge anymore details.
But soon as the BJP team rushed to Raj Bhawan with a list 30 MLAs, suspense finally came to an end. To everyone's surprise a Congress MLA from Andro Shyam Kumar and Trinamool Congress MLA Robindro Singh had joined the delegation.
Technically, the defecting Congress candidate stands for disqualification due to the move. Which means that the effective strength of the house gets reduced to 59. In that case, the magic figure will be 30 which the BJP combine already has.
Meanwhile, sources in the BJP claim that at least a dozen more Congress MLA's were "in touch" with them to switch over. Interestingly, BJP hasn't chosen its leader of the legislature party as its waiting for its central observers to arrive in Imphal on Monday.
COMPETING CLAIM BY CONGRESS
Amidst all this, chief minister Ibobi Singh too met Governor Najma Heptulla on Sunday night and formally staked claim reminding that the Congress was the single largest party in the assembly and should therefore be called first.
"We have staked claim. Congress party is the single largest party and first chance should be given to us. BJP does not have a pre-poll alliance and it muat be decided by the Governor," Deputy Chief Minister Gaigkhangam Gangmei told India Today.
The Congress furnished a letter signed by National People's Party's national general secretary Vivekraj Wangkhem and state president Thangminlien Kipgen. The letter said NPP had the "honour" of supporting the single-largest single party in Manipur.
The BJP, pointing out the letter did not appear on the party's official letterhead, said the document was inconsequential has the NPP MLAs and chief had appeared with it during a press conference earlier.