The BJP is within a striking distance of forming a government in Manipur for the first time though it emerged as the second largest party after the Congress, provided it is able to enlist support of three NDA partners. The election threw up a hung verdict with none of the two mainstream parties being able to cross the magic figure of 31 in the 60-member Assembly. The Congress was the closest with 28 seats against BJP’s 21, an impressive performance by all accounts. The BJP is confident of forming the government by securing support of the Nationalist People’s Party (NPP) and Naga People’s Front (NPF), alliance partners of the North East Democratic Alliance and NDA at the Centre, which bagged four seats each.
The LJP, which is an NDA partner, TMC and Independents have bagged one seat each. The NPF, NPP and LJP all fought the Assembly elections separately. “We are confident of forming the next government in Manipur. The NPP has won four seats, LJP has won one seat. Even though we have fought separately we are hopeful that they will join us as they are our partners in the NDA government. we will talk to the TMC and Independent candidates also,” BJP leader and one of the front-runners in the race to ascend to the chief minister’s chair, N Biren, told reporters.
After its stunning victory in Assam in 2016, the BJP scripted a dramatic turnaround of fortunes in the Northeast, a traditional stronghold of the Congress, bagging 36.3 per cent votes, which is even higher than the Congress which polled 35.1 per cent votes.
The presence of the BJP was so nominal in the state that the party had hardly fielded any candidate in the last 2012 Assembly polls. Things looked up after the BJP’s ascension to power at the Centre in 2014. “After party’s victory at the Lok Sabha election in 2014, the party felt the need to increase its foot print in the Northeast as the region is very important in our party’s vision of overall development and a Congress-free India,” state BJP president K Bhabananda Singh had said prior to the elections.
After the party’s victory in Assam, the BJP had engaged its election machinery full throttle as well as some of its finest strategists like Ram Madhav to repeat Assam in Manipur. With anti-incumbency at its height after a 15-year Congress rule, led by Okram Ibobi Singh, the BJP milked both dissent within the Congress and the anti-incumbency factor till the last drop.
Ibobi Singh-led Congress’s sweeping victory in Manipur in 2012 bagging 42 seats was attributed to a divided opposition. This time, the BJP built an anti-Congress platform by getting on board leaders who have popularity of their own but had fallen out with Ibobi Singh.
The BJP was able to pocket several top leaders of the Congress such as N Biren, Y Erabot and O Chauba, although it itself suffered a few casualties losing KH Jaikishan to the Congress. The Congress’s campaign strategy of accusing the saffron party of being hand in glove with the United Naga Council, which sponsored the crippling economic blockade to protest against the bifurcation of the districts in the-Naga dominated hills, did not cut much ice with the voters.
Neither did its allegation that if the BJP came to power it would compromise the territorial integrity of the state. The BJP did well in the valley, where the Congress was hoping to reap the benefits of economic blockade.
The sharp decline in the vote share and number of seats of the Congress from 42 per cent in 2012 to 35 per cent in 2017, and to 28 seats from 42 seats last time has put the state leadership under the scanner.
The Congress strategy of bifurcating the hill and thus create a division between valley and hills which has 70 and 30 per cent of the seats respectively didn’t seem to have clicked this time. The state Congress leadership, however, has blamed the “false promises of the BJP” and militant outfit NSCN (IM) for its poor performance.
“The NSCN (IM) in order to defeat the Congress had resorted to a massive rigging and booth-capturing in many seats in favour of the BJP and NPF candidates. The money power played a vital role in addition to a section of people’s faith in the BJP’s false promises about lifting the economic blockade,” state Congress president T N Haokip told media.
Although the Congress is still three short of a majority, Haokip expressed confidence of forming the next government. “We are confident. We will form the next government in Manipur. We are already in talks with like-minded secular and regional parties. But we will never go with separatist outfit like NPF,” Haokip said.
Whether the smaller parties like NPP, NPF, LJP and TMC will join the Congress is a million-dollar question as all of them have won on an anti-Congress plank. The NPP is yet to take a call as its general secretary Vivek Raj said, “We will decide after having an intra-party discussion.”
The TMC leadership in Manipur is averse to going along with the BJP because of its implications in Bengal where it is a ruling party and has a 30 per cent Muslim electorate which is perceived to be anti-BJP.
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