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4-min read

In Manipur, BJP Makes a Giant Leap

For BJP, coming within the kissing distance of forming a government in Manipur is part of the dramatic turnaround of its fortunes in the North East, coming as it does after the stunning victory in Assam.

Subhajit Sengupta | CNN-News18SubhajitSG

Updated:March 12, 2017, 9:32 AM IST
BJP supporter
Image for representation only (Photo: Reuters)

Imphal: Manipur has returned a hung Assembly but the advantage is certainly with the BJP. While Congress has emerged the single largest party with 28 seats, BJP, along with its other partners of North East Democratic Alliance, is likely to touched the magic figure of 30. Sources in BJP suggest that the lone Trinamool MLA is going to extend support to them. But two trends from two seats are yet to come in, and both BJP and Congress are eyeing them eagerly.

For BJP, coming within the kissing distance of forming a government in Manipur is part of the dramatic turnaround of its fortunes in the North East, coming as it does after the stunning victory in Assam. In fact, there is a lot of the Manipur success that goes back to the victory in Assam.

It was a heady evening for BJP, earlier in the day, the first-ever democratically elected BJP government took oath under Sarbananda Sonowal in Dispur, Assam. The Prime Minister and his entire Cabinet was witness to the gala open air swearing-in ceremony. There was a melee of reporters at the newly opened Taj Vivanta, the hotel had become the default HQ of BJP, since all the top leadership was staying there. That's when one of the backroom boys of Ram Madhav said he was flying off to Imphal the next morning. Someone asked: “Already?” Pat came the reply: “There isn't much of time.”

Time indeed was in short supply. Manipur was up for polls in less than a year's time and unlike most of the other states of the country there was virtually no network of RSS or other Sangh affiliates on the ground.

BJP realised building the party organically would not be the best option. Thus after a quick study, they figured out there was palpable anger against Ibobi Singh on the ground. Three-term was a long time, fatigue was visible in the administration and the effect was all too obvious on the voters.

In 2012, while Ibobi swept Manipur, many also attributed the defeat to the divided opposition. Thus Bharatiya Janta Party decided to build a platform for all the anti-Ibobi faces, leaders and legislatures.

The focus was to get leaders who were already popular, those who over the last 15 years had fallen out with Ibobi Singh, but had individual popularity and charisma. Thus began the great 'house-warming' party. Leaders from main opposition party Trinamool Congress were first to join, then the dissident Congress leaders joined in. Thus most of the top leadership include probable CM faces have actually migrated into the party recently. Senior leaders of BJP whether N Biren or Y Erabot or even O Chauba, all had been part of the Congress at different part of the time.

However, the party suffered a setback when one of their most visible faces Jaikishan Khumukcham, who was with Trinamool earlier, was won over by Congress. At the height of Naga blockade and the violence during the counter blockade in the Imphal valley, he decided to join Congress. He blamed BJP's central leadership for not being able to stop this blockade by the Naga groups. He echoed CM Ibobi Singh's statement that the Centre which is in talks with the NSCN(IM) could have stopped the blockade if they wanted.

This shift also suggested the change in perception in the state. Ibobi Singh, who appeared to be down and out till this moment, was able to work up some sort of a resentment against BJP in the valley. This was a make or break moment for BJP. It was getting to be identified with the Nagas, and even if they sweep the hills it won't be enough for them to win the election. The valley and the adjoining areas counted for over 40 of the 60 seats in the Assembly.

The party saw itself in an unenviable position of being seen as the anti-Meitei, a predominantly caste Hindu community. Thus the party decided to do a tight rope walk. While campaign in Moreh, Ukhrul and other hill areas continued, in the valley they only spoke about the issues people were fed up with. 'Fake-encounters', corruption, lack of drinking water and employment opportunities became the theme of the campaign.

An advertorial blitzkrieg across all mediums was launched. This almost bordered over enthusiasm, as all the eight top dailies had a full-page advertisement a day before the polls, a clear violation of the model code of conduct.

Election Commission took this very seriously and an FIR was registered against the local leadership and the newspapers. Top leadership of the party was para-dropped in the state and attempts were made to reach out to each of the communities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a successful rally, party president Amit Shah too held a number of rallies, Prakash Javadekar the in-charge of the state camped in. There was the duo of Ram Madhav and Himanta Biswas Sarma, fresh from the Assam success tried to replicate the strategy here.

The attempt was at giving a credible alternate option to the Ibobi government while keeping the usual 'nationalistic' noises away. Imphal valley which has seen many insurgent groups demanding freedom, has a strong latent sense of Meitei nationalism. BJP, which already found itself on the wrong side of the four month old blockade, feared a washout if it borrowed UP's blue print of a 'nationalist' campaign. Thus it was all about presenting a credible option, a close re-run of the campaigns against Congress-ruled states, which they have already captured and a campaign style that the party has almost perfected.

Thus is the story of BJP in Manipur. The battle has been fought, the results are just awaited. Whether BJP topples the 15-year-old Ibobi Singh government in Manipur or stops just short of it, they have arrived in the state and are here to stay.

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| Edited by: Huma Tabassum
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