Cong has edge in Manipur but BJP is no pushover

Cong has edge in Manipur but BJP is no pushover

Cong has edge in Manipur but BJP is no pushover

The ongoing elections to the Manipur Legislative Assembly is mainly a contest between the Congress and the BJP, even though there are not less than 16 political parties contesting the polls along with a number of independent candidates.

The stakes are equally high for both the Congress and the BJP. The Congress has been in power in Manipur for the last 15 years. It won 42 out of 60 seats during the 2012 elections, and actually had 47 MLAs at one time towards the end of its tenure.

The BJP too, besides being the all-powerful party at the Centre, has already succeeded in forming ministries in Assam and Arun­achal Pradesh last year. Obviously, Manipur is the next in the region. Therefore, the elections came as the real litmus test for both.

The first phase of election was completed on March 4. It covered 38 Assembly Constituencies (28 unreserved, nine Scheduled Tribe and one Scheduled Caste) spread over six districts (three each in the valley and hills). The overall voting turnout has been reported as 84%, highest ever for the state Assembly elections in Manipur.

To the pleasant surprise of the people, it was by and large peaceful. Now, the focus has shifted to the second phase which will be held on March 8 and will cover 10 districts of the state (including seven hill districts) comprising 22 seats (11 reserved for the STs that are all in the hills, and another 11 unreserved).

Yet, the basic issues and challenges confronting the state and its people remain just the same. They include: a) The ongoing four-month old economic blockade by the United Naga Council (UNC); b) Creation of seven new districts — Kangpokpi, None, Kamjong, Pherzol, Tengnoupal, Jiri and Kakching, which the UNC and the Naga People’s Front (NPF) are demanding to be rolled back; and c) The question of territorial integrity of the state in view of the ongoing dialogue between the Government of India and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN –IM).

The dialogue has resulted in a ‘Framework Agreement’ for finding a meaningful and lasting solution to the problem of political integration of the Nagas. The details of the Framework Agreement have not been made public yet, thereby causing a lot of anxiety and suspicion among communities other than the Nagas inside the state. As such, the way the parties have reacted and presented their positions on these issues remain crucial in deciding their acceptability or otherwise to the people.

The people’s concern about these issues is real and deep-rooted, and they are not interested in populist slogans or propagandas. This is the big challenge for the BJP.

Despite the prime minister and many other heavyweights of the party joining the election campaign, the party has not succeeded in removing the apprehensions.

The Meiteis in the valley and the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribes of the hills have apprehensions about the details of the Framework Agreement and how it will affect the territorial integrity of the state and the Kuki-Chin-Mizo inhabited areas within it.

Even when the party and its leaders came forward to present their positions about these issues, it came very late and the damage had already been done. This failure is perhaps the most crucial consideration that is working in favour of the Congress in this election in spite of all the allegations of corruption, inefficiency, bad go­vernance and what not, against the party.

Regarding the four-month long economic blockade, the people are increasingly blaming the UNC and the NSCN (IM), and not merely the Congress. But with petroleum products being brought into the state under security protection and also through cargo planes of the Indian Air Force, the hardships that people have been suffering because of the blockade have decreased considerably.

Blockade: NSCM (IM) blamed
While this has diverted the people from blaming the Congress for the blockade, they still blame the UNC and the NSCN (IM) for its continuation. In such a situation, the proximity between the BJP on the one hand and the NPF and NSCN (IM) on the other has been a matter of concern to many people in the valley.

About the creation of new districts, the Kuki-Chin-Mizo people in the hills are definitely happy with it, and they will fight tooth and nail against any possibility of its rolling back which is what the NPF and UNC are demanding. They are also concerned about how the Centre’s negotiation with the NSCN (IM) might affect areas inhabited by them and their security there. Therefore, many of them are critical about the real intentions of the BJP.

Yet, it still cannot be expected for the Congress to be a cakewalk in the Kuki-Chin-Mizo inhabited areas as militant outfits still play a significant role there.

Unlike among the Nagas, there are so many small outfits among them that may happen to be strong in only particular constituencies or areas, and they may go on backing different candidates belonging to different parties. And, this may often prove to be decisive.

As things stand at present, the Congress is still likely to emerge at least as the single largest party once the election results are out. Yet, if none of the parties win a majority, then it will be the BJP which is most likely to lead a coalition government even if the Congress becomes the single largest party.

What is more, even if the Congress wins a majority and forms the government, many feel that they will not be surprised if it gets replaced by a BJP government. And this says a lot about the nature and dynamics of state politics in Manipur.

(The writer is Professor, Department of Pol-itical Science, Manipur University, Imphal)