MANIPUR (60 seats, hung House)
Okram Ibobi Singh, Chief Minister since 2002, is in the running for a fourth term, but the BJP’s inroads in the state — going from zero in 2012 to 21 now — are nothing short of remarkable. The party state incharge, Prahlad Patel, says his preparations began in 2015. In the panchayat elections that year, out of 24 seats, the BJP won 6 seats with a clear majority and received support from other parties in 4 others. In the 2016 Imphal municipality elections, it won 12 of the 30 seats, just 1 seat behind the Congress.
The big loser
Despite the Congress’s 28 seats, the verdict, can still be seen to have been against Ibobi Singh, and for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The CM has lost ground in the face of strong anti-incumbency — and many Congress stalwarts, including ministers, have been defeated; many others have barely scraped through. Several disgruntled ministers would likely have switched to the BJP before the elections if only they had been sure of victory in what has turned out to be a tight contest that can produce a government led by either of the two main parties. The BJP’s very untestedness gives it an advantage — and having received little or no development under Ibobi Singh for the past 15 years, voters have clearly bought the Prime Minister’s “development” pitch.
The Northeast is important for the BJP, and its MLAs, even if they have to ultimately sit in the opposition, will be boosted as much by the state’s mood for change as by central support in the form of development funds. The PM announced in his election rally in Imphal that should the BJP form the government, the Centre and state would work together to ensure lifting of the United Naga Council’s economic blockade within 24 hours.
The other development the state awaits is progress on the Naga peace talks. The Nagas have maintained that the Ibobi government is anti-tribal and anti-Naga. The Congress has won 6 of the hill seats, which, with Ibobi back in power, might queer the pitch for an “honourable” resolution of the 60-year-old dispute.