A bandh called by the All Tribal Manipur Chiefs Forum against sitting Congress MP Thangso Baite and the Congress-led government in the state has brought life to a standstill in five hill districts of Manipur for the past four days.
The tribals have listed several grievances against the Congress, which has dominated the state politics for years, and presented it to the Okram Ibobi Singh government. According to the tribals, if their grievances are not redressed within the next few days, they will go on an indefinite bandh and won’t allow Congress workers to campaign in the districts that form part of the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat.
With only days left for polling in the constituency — scheduled for April 9 — the chief minister has invited the tribal leaders to talks, his second attempt the defuse the crisis. The tribals are, however, yet to respond.
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“We call the sitting Congress MP the sleeping MP here. He has done nothing — no harm, but no help either. He is not our representative. He is the representative of Ibobi Singh,” says a Kuki tribal leader as he highlights the poor state of infrastructure in the region.
The tribals here complain of not receiving their MGNREGS wages, and are now angry with the state government for the way it plans to disburse central funds for implementing the rural job guarantee scheme. Earlier, the district administration used to receive the funds directly from the Centre. Now, Imphal will receive the money first. “In the the past six years, tribals in Jiribam received only 30-day wages under MGNREGS. We want the funds directly to the districts,” says Lalmalsawm, spokesperson for the tribal forum.
“Moreover, all of us (tribal) chiefs have given land for government schools, but we are no longer permitted to chair the school board. This is the the state government’s way of annexing tribal land and finishing tribal culture and our indigenous rights,’’ adds Lalmalsawm.
Interestingly, this time a number of parties have fielded candidates in this hill constituency, making the contest more politically charged. Besides Congress’s Baite, others in the fray include nominees from Trinamool, RJD, NCP and the newly formed Aam Aadmi Party.
Local journalist Kaimuan Thang says the contest will be a tough one for the Congress this time. “They (Congress) do have the advantage of resources, and manage to swing votes at the last hour. But this election looks different. This time people seem to be really determined to defeat the Congress,’’ says Thang.