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Ibobi defends jumbo ministry

Imphal, May 3: Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh has quashed all criticism regarding his jumbo-sized ministry by linking induction of more ministers to safeguarding the integrity of all ethnic groups in the state.

Ibobi Singh reshuffled his 13-month-old Secular Progressive Front (SPF) ministry on April 21. He elevated nine ministers of state by giving them Cabinet rank, while inducting a fresh Cabinet minister.

The chief minister, who took 10 days to finalise the list following clamours within the ruling front over lucrative posts, also inducted a new minister of state.

The combined strength of the front is 39, the fourth expansion raising the strength of Ibobi Singh’s council of ministers to 35. Barring the lone Manipur National Conference member Natum Singh, who had been dropped on the day of the reshuffle, all the legislators in the SPF have got ministerial berths or posts of equivalent rank.

Ibobi Singh did not part with the important portfolios of finance and home, though the vigilance department has been separated from home and allocated to new minister of state Nongthombam Biren Singh.

The Opposition Democratic Peoples Alliance has criticised Ibobi Singh’s huge ministry and his expansion tactics for keeping his flock together. It warned that induction of more ministers would be suicidal because of the state’s precarious fiscal condition.

Reacting to the blistering attack from the Opposition, especially by the BJP, the chief minister said, “There are many communities in the state. Hence, equal representation of all the districts as well as groups (in the council of ministers) is essential to foster emotional integration among them.”

He said maintaining emotional integrity and unity among the communities tops his government’s priorities.

“Shouting from rooftops or staging street demonstrations for protection of territorial integrity of Manipur are not enough. To maintain it there should be parity in development of both hills and valley,” he said.

For the time being, Ibobi Singh has managed to check any dissident activity within the SPF, especially in his own party, the Congress.

However, the Assembly’s hill areas committee chairman, Songchinkhup, and deputy Speaker Lala Singh, was not happy at being left out during the reshuffle.

Many of the senior ministers are also not happy with Ibobi Singh’s style of functioning.

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