Cong has edge, but hung House could swing BJP in

Cong has edge, but hung House could swing BJP in
Electoral politics in Manipur has a long fluid past which has affected the spirit of governance. The 60-member Legislative Assembly is divided as follows: 41 constituencies for the plains, including one for Scheduled Caste, and the hill area into 19 constituencies. The hill area is represented by the Nagas and Kukis since these constituencies are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes, while the plains, which is open to all, is represented by the Meiteis, Meitei-Muslims and others.

Today, Manipur stands as an example of a severely divided society. The plains is predominantly inhabited by the Meiteis, including the Meitei-Muslims, while the Nagas and Kukis are predominantly concentrated in the hill area. On the one side, some groups who live in the plains wanted the introduction of the Inner Line Permit system (a travel document issued by a competent authority which is valid for a limited period) in the state, and on the other, some groups who live in the hill area are in favour of division of Manipur into different homelands so that they can control certain territories outside Manipur.

Should these homelands become new states/new union territories, Manipur will lose up to two-thirds of its land. However, this will not go unchallenged since many people in the plains are against the break-up of the present geographical boundary. At the same time, the proponents of different homelands (Nagalim and Kukiland/Zale’n-gam) are at loggerheads as their land claims often overlap each other.

In addition, the United Naga Council (UNC), a major pressure group of the Nagalim movement, wanted to sever “political” ties from the state government. It has even imposed an indefinite prohibition of the movement of goods along the highways since November 2016 against the state government’s move to create new districts. It affected normal life due to the skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, including cooking gas, petrol, diesel, cement etc.

The Congress has been ruling Manipur for most of the time either by itself or with the support of the allies. This time, too, the Congress is expected to do better. And the reason is simple.

First, the Congress has regained some its lost ground over the past couple of months with the creation of the seven new districts, a move welcomed by a major part of the population. This move has affected the BJP’s poll prospects. It is still unclear what the BJP’s stand is on this issue. Even if the BJP opposes the creation of new districts, its support base among the people of different communities will further reduce.

Nonetheless, the move seems to have halted the Congress’s decline at least for the time being.

Second, initially, the people of different communities expected that the BJP could bargain with the UNC to end the ongoing prohibition on the movement of goods along the highways. The people are fully aware that certain issues, like the demand for repealing the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or the Nagalim movement, cannot be handled by the state government alone. Thus, the people expect timely intervention of the central government. They have questioned the inordinate delay on the part of the Centre to end the impasse over prohibition on the movement of goods on the highways.

Manipur is a landlocked state and is connected to the rest of the country through a few narrow highways. Almost all the essential commodities are brought from outside. The ongoing prohibition has affected the lives of the people. This unhealthy state of affairs is not only a reflection of the state’s failure but also of the increasing polarisation among different communities.

Demand for sports university

Third, Manipur has been desperately waiting for a sports university. The 2014 Budget had promised a sports university, a wise step since Manipur has produced a large number of sportspersons despite the lack of infrastructure. Unfortunately, the university has not materialised yet. The BJP will be deprived of the benefit by the delay which has given the Congress an advantage.

Fourth, shortly after assuming office, the Centre signed an agreement with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), apparently to “empower” the Naga people. However, this too remains very secretive, and even Manipur BJP leaders are clueless. The people want to know what the agreement would mean for the state, and the secretive nature of the deal has led to suspicion.

Even if it fails to win a majority, the Congress is likely to emerge as the single largest party. However, that may prove disastrous for the party. In such a scenario, the post-election period will be interesting as the BJP may emerge as the frontrunner for the government formation even if it wins fewer seats than the Congress. Unlike Sikkim or Tripura, in the history of electoral politics of Manipur, whichever party is in power at the Centre, normally rides to power in the state too.

In the post-election period, it may be difficult for the Congress to keep its flock together. In that situation, the BJP will certainly get unconditional support from the smaller parties. Even the Naga People’s Front, the only party that promises to work for the integration of Naga areas, which is expected to get few seats (probably less than four seats it won in 2012), is most likely to support the BJP.

(The writer is associate professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)
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