The BJP’s three allies seem to be posing a bigger challenge for it in Manipur than its arch-rival Congress and anti-incumbency. Top leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah may have targeted only the Congress during campaigns in the north-eastern state, but the allies - National People’s Party (NPP), Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Nitish Kumar’s Janta Dal (United) - are all set to queer the pitch for the saffron party, which has set a target of absolute majority and formation government for the second term.
“Our party will emerge as the single largest party in Manipur and the next government will be led by us,” the NPP chief and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said, adding that his party would provide an alternative to the voters who had voted for both Congress and BJP in the past.
The NPP, which helped BJP form its first government in Manipur in 2017, is contesting in 38 of the 60 assembly seats. The NPF, another partner in the ruling coalition led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh, has put up candidates in 10 constituencies in the hills, where Naga and Kuki voters, mostly Christian, decide the fate of the candidates. Both the NPP and the NPF had won four seats each in 2017. The BJP had come second with 21 seats but had managed to wrest power from the Congress with the help of the NPP, NPF and a few defectors. The Congress, which was in power for three consecutive terms (2002 to 2017) had emerged as the single largest party with 28 seats. The BJP’s alliance with the NPF and the NPP since 2017, however, has not been smooth with both even threatening to withdraw support in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
The JD (U), an ally of BJP in Bihar and at the Centre, has fielded candidates in 38 seats, including at least a dozen former Congress and BJP MLAs, who were denied tickets by the two parties. “A wave of anti-incumbency is sweeping through the hills and the valley,” Afaque Ahamad Khan, JD (U) general secretary in charge of the north-eastern states, told DH.
ILP and AFSPA
The Congress, led by party veteran and former Chief Minister O Ibobi Singh, as well as the NPP, NPF and the JD (U), have promised repeal of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 in their election manifestos. The BJP has not made any such promise. The party believes that voters, particularly in the valley having 40 seats, would vote for it for fulfilling the long-time demand for the introduction of the Inner Line Permit (ILP). The ILP, which requires people from outside to take travel permits, was introduced in Manipur in January 2020 following the anti-CAA agitation. “We also want the AFSPA to go but we need to create an atmosphere to convince the Centre,” Biren Singh said. This has provided ammunition to the Congress, which questioned why the Centre was not repealing the ‘draconian’ AFSPA when the BJP is claiming that they brought peace to Manipur in the past five years.
The AFSPA is likely to dominate the campaigns in the hills constituencies where BJP is banking on NPF’s support after the results on March 10. The hills will go for polls on March 4. The BJP has not yet named a CM candidate. But it has been strongly projecting the works done by the Biren Singh government. “The government led by Biren Singh ended blockades, brought peace and opened a new chapter of connectivity. Biren’s steps to reach out to the hills have helped us unite communities,” Amit Shah said in a rally at Churachandpur on February 23.
The BJP insiders told DH that Biren could be the next CM only if he could lead the party to an absolute majority. “In case of a hung assembly, the party may have to look for others as both the NPP and the NPF are unwilling to join hands with Biren as the CM,” a BJP leader in Manipur said. Minister Th. Biswajit Singh and former president of Manipur Congress Govindas Konthoujam, who switched over to BJP in 2020, are the other contenders for the CM post.
Fallout in Tripura
The results in Manipur will have a possible fallout in Tripura, where the ruling BJP is already facing an exodus of party leaders and an emerging challenge from the Trinamool Congress ahead of the assembly polls scheduled to be held next year. After the victory in West Bengal for the third term, the TMC has set its eyes to form its government in Tripura and Goa. The BJP wants to maintain the winning streak in Manipur and Tripura to keep the north-eastern region “Congress Mukt”.
The BJP is in power in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and is a minor partner in Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram governments. Meghalaya, where NPP leads the coalition government, will also go for polls next year.
Watch the latest DH Videos here: