Imphal, Nov. 2: Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh has finally made home minister Gaikhangam the deputy chief minister. Chief secretary D.S. Poonia issued an order to this effect late last night.
According to party sources, Gaikhangam was seen as the only alternative to Ibobi Singh. Therefore, Ibobi wanted to keep his prospective rival happy by making him number two.
The timing of the appointment is also significant. With the Centre and NSCN (I-M) inching towards a settlement, the demand by the United Naga Council for an alternative administrative arrangement for Nagas in Manipur is being put forward.
The Naga council has been accusing the Manipur government of being communal. By making Gaikhangam his deputy, Ibobi Singh wanted to remove the “communal” tag. Gaikhangam, who hails from Tamenglong district, belongs to the Naga community.
Ibobi Singh was also shouldering the problem of having “too many” MLAs. The ministry size is limited to 12 and an ouster campaign cannot be ruled out.
Gaikhangam, who is the president of Manipur PCC, had run for the chief minister’s post in the second term of the Secular Progressive Front ministry and again before the installation of the present Congress government.
He was the works minister in Ibobi Singh’s first term. After losing the run for the top post, Gaikhangam had pushed for a better portfolio like finance. When he was given charge of the health department, Gaikhangam resigned from the ministry in protest and decided to “devote” time to organisational work of the party.
Under his stewardship, the Congress created history by winning 42 out of the 60 seats in the Assembly elections in January. He again ran for the top post but the party high command decided that Ibobi Singh should continue.
But Gaikhangam this time bargained for a better charge and though he was happy with the home department, he did not give up his aspiration to become number two.
The chief minister is also walking a tightrope on the NSCN (I-M)’s demand for Naga integration. Though Ibobi Singh has reiterated that he would not break up Manipur as a fallout of the settlement, he is under pressure from the Union home ministry for cooperation in resolving the Naga imbroglio.
In making Gaikhangam the deputy chief minister, it is being seen as a move to share the burden.
Gaikhangam will leave for New Delhi tomorrow to make a courtesy call on senior party leaders and also attend the Congress rally in the national capital on November 4.