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BJP's Northeastern Test, Politics Over People's Issues | All You Need to Know About Poll-bound Manipur

Incumbent Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh is a good political player and knows to strike a balance between valley and hill region through his programmes. (Image: @NBirenSingh/Twitter)

Incumbent Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh is a good political player and knows to strike a balance between valley and hill region through his programmes. (Image: @NBirenSingh/Twitter)

The state with a history of insurgency, and recent incidents of pre-poll violence will vote in two phases, on February 27 and March 4.

Riddled with insurgency since it gained statehood 50 years ago, Manipur will go to polls along with four other states — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Punjab — next month. Voting in the northeastern state will take place in two phases, on February 27 and March 4.

The state has a population of close to 28 lakh, of which 20 lakh voters live in the state capital Imphal. Tribals comprise 41 per cent of Manipur’s population: 53 per cent are Meitei ethnic groups followed by 24 per cent Nagas, and 16 per cent Kuki Zo.

Manipur has 60 constituencies, divided between 40 in the valley and 20 in the hills. The state has close to equal representation of Christians and Hindus. Most Christian population is concentrated in the hill region of the state.

Insurgency is the most challenging issue faced by the state government with a few incidents of pre-poll violence disturbing a relatively peaceful environment in the recent past.

The killings of an Army officer along with others in Churachandpur and civilian killings in neighbouring Nagaland will have their effect.

Political players in Manipur

BJP: The BJP gained importance in Manipur from 2014. Incumbent chief minister N Biren Singh joined the saffron party after a 15-year tenure in the Congress in 2016. In the 2017 election, the BJP won 21 seats but with due to a post-poll alliance with NPP and NPF, they were able to form the government. The Congress faced an exodus after the BJP formed the government in the state, which has continued to date.

This time, the BJP has claimed that it will win more than 41 seats, and their slogan is, ‘Hanna hanna BJP, henna henna chaokhatpa (Again and again BJP, more and more development)’. This, backed with the double-engine government theory, is something the BJP is banking on.

A former journalist, Biren Singh first joined the Congress and, thereafter, joined the BJP. A good political player, he knows the art of balance. He is the only leader who has been able to strike a balance between valley and hills through his programmes.

‘Go to hills’ and ‘Go to villages’ programmes have helped developed a good image in his effort to build a relationship between valley and hill region. He also worked hard during the coronavirus pandemic. Another programme, called ‘CM da haisi (Tell the CM)’ has built a positive image for Biren.

During his regime, Manipur has witnessed a relatively peaceful environment. But his good image has also worked against him within the party, where infighting is common.

The exodus from the Congress is massive and, therefore, there are too many contenders for one seat. Security has been tightened for declaration of candidates. Moreover, sources said candidates who will contest will be signing an agreement of cooperation with the party so that they can be stopped from making switchovers.

Apart from this, Biren banks heavily on the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, drawing heavy criticism.

Congress: The Congress ruled Manipur for over 15 years, but the state unit is just now facing an erosion. Many MLAs and other leaders have left the grand olf party, which has become its characterisation in the northeastern state now.

The Congress has formed an alliance with five left parties, but it is still unclear as to what benefits they will gain from it. Though the party has declared 40 candidates, its strategy for the upcoming polls is not yet clear.

Former chief minister Okram Idobi will be contesting from Thoubal, while former deputy CM Gaikhangam will contest from Nungba constituency.
The Congress does not have much to project, but are still hopeful of a win.

National People’s Front (NPP): The NPP is a regional party working for the rights of indigenous peoples. It has its base in Meghalaya. Conrad Sangma is the national president of the party and looks after both the state units.

The NPP is in alliance with the BJP and helped it to form the government in 2017. The party fielded candidates in nine constituencies in 2017 and won four. This time, however, it has not fixed a pre-poll alliance. The NPP has already declared 20 candidates, even as sources said they will contest 40 seats.

They have given tickets to Yumnam Joy Kumar, who is the deputy CM and an important political face in Manipur. The NPP released their manifesto on January 23, where they have promised to take up the initiative to withdrew the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and will look into the rights of indigenous peoples.

Nagaland People’s Front (NPF): Nagaland People’s Front is a regional party with its presence in Manipur and neighbouring Nagaland. They too are in an alliance with the BJP, but have refrained from announcing a pre-poll alliance.

Awangbow Newmai is the key person of the NPF, which stresses on Indo-Naga peace process. The Manipur unit president announced that his party will fight the 12th Manipur legislative assembly election on the plank of peace and prosperity.

In 2017, the party won four seats but, this time, sources said it will field candidates in more than 15 seats.

The fight: The fight is primarily between the BJP and the Congress. While NPP and NPF are also in the mix, they will contest against their government ally BJP individually.

Political analysts said in the present situation, the BJP has an edge over the Congress. But infighting in the BJP is a major concern.

Other issues in the Manipur election

Withdrawal Of AFSPA: The polls have come in the wake of the Churachandpur incident on November 14, where Assam Rifles officer Col Viplav Tripathi was killed along with six others and the 14 civilian killings in neighbouring Nagaland.

Biren, too, has advocated for repealing the AFSPA from the state. The NPP and NPF have both said they will raise their voice for the repeal of AFSPA. The Congress, too, has requested Biren to take up this issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Violence: An 18-year-old college student was shot dead and his father received bullet injuries when unidentified gunmen fired at them in Manipur’s Thoubal district, police said. The incident took place on January 26.

In another poll-related killing in Manipur, a police personnel and his cousin brother were shot dead by miscreants in Imphal’s west district on January 9.

Pre-poll violence has become common. Sources said this was why the polls had been split in two phases.

Water scarcity: Water scarcity is a major problem in Manipur, which is a drought-prone state. The issue of water needs to be resolved. The state also needs more connectivity to the mainland. Political issues, and not people’s issues, are at the forefront of this election. Hence, none of the politicians have touched over these problems.

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first published:January 28, 2022, 11:33 IST