A number of smaller parties have emerged over the last six months in Manipur. Irom Sharmila’s People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) is just one of them. These are apart from independent candidates, a regular feature of elections anywhere. The emergence of the newer parties, political analysts say, is a feeling in the state that neither of the main two political parties has been able to solve deadlocks such as the months-long economic blockade or long-standing issues such as the demand to repeal AFSPA, the controversial armed forces Act.
Erendro Leichombam, convener of Sharmila’s PRJA, is contesting from Thangmeiband while Sharmila herself is contesting against Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in Thoubal. Najma Bibi from Wabgai is the third candidate in the first election of the party, registered hardly a month ago. All three are under age 45. “We could have stood as independent candidates but we have a long-term vision,” says Leichombam. “Since the Congress and the BJP are national parties and their leadership sits in Delhi, we believe that they cannot really fight for the rights of the people of Manipur… And we want to bring justice for Manipur.”
Leichombam claims a support base mostly of young, educated voters. One of the party’s elections issues is unemployment — he says the state has eight lakh jobless youth — besides AFSPA, corruption and “divisive politics” of the Congress and the BJP. Another new party launched on similar causes is by Bijoy Akoijam, who was a minister in a previous Ibobi government. His Manipur National Democratic Front, registered in October, is fielding 13 candidates, including three in the hill districts. “Our membership is around 1,000 now. I had been thinking for some time about floating a separate political party because the Congress and the BJP cannot work in Manipur’s interest. Their bosses sit in Delhi and Delhi always have the final call in what happens in our state,” Akoijam says.
Akoijam says his decision to form a party was spurred by the unresolved economic blockade in Manipur and the standoff between the BJP-led Centre and the Congress-led state government. “You see, the people continue to suffer. The national parties here cannot work independently, cannot address issues,’’ he says. He says the MNDF’s main platform will be the “territorial integrity’’ of Manipur and a stand against the United Naga Council and the Naga demand for a separate contiguous Naga region. “Manipur includes everyone. The UNC does not head Manipur, they can’t dictate what we should do and what we shouldn’t,’’ he says.
The North East Development Front (NEDF) is yet another new party that has emerged over the past few months. In addition, there are the better-known parties such as the Trinamool Congress, which won seven seats out of 60 in the last election, while the late P A Sangma’s National People’s Party and the JD(U) too are contesting. Some ticket seekers denied by the BJP and the Congress have moved to one or the other of the smaller parties. Akoijam agrees that in his party, three disgruntled leaders have joined from the BJP while another has switched over from the Congress.