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Manipur Assembly Elections Primer: Having stolen march from Cong in 2017, BJP now miles ahead

🔴 Congress marked by split in ranks; BJP govt seen positively but may run into ticket fights

Written by Jimmy Leivon | Imphal |
Updated: January 8, 2022 10:16:14 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Manipur CM Biren Singh. (Express file photo)

Much water has flown under the bridge since the BJP trumped the Congress to form its first ever government in Manipur, even after finishing seven seats behind it. The Congress, once the most powerful party in the state with 15 years in government before 2017, is a shadow of itself, having lost several stalwarts to the BJP.

The tally of the BJP’s 21 against the Congress’s 28 in the 2017 polls was also a result of the performance of the smaller parties, which between them won 10-odd of the total 60 seats, influencing the power dynamics for the first time. The BJP had formed the government in alliance with Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP) and Nagaland’s Naga People’s Front (NPF), which had won four seats each.

These regional parties are likely to pull their weight this time too, though there is no pre-poll alliance. As the ruling party both in the state and Centre, the BJP of course offers a much more promising alternative.

Incumbent Chief Minister Biren Singh also goes into the election with several positives such as policies that tried to bridge the gap between the hill and valley areas (seen as having widened under former CM Okram Ibobi Singh), and the decline in the long bandhs and blockades which the state used to see. While he faced rebellion from within, the former football player managed to survive.

A look at 2017 Assembly Elections

The outreach measures such as ‘Go to Hills’, ‘Go to Village’, ‘CM’s Health for All Schemes’ were appreciated as efforts to take the government to the doorstep, especially in the neglected hill areas. Of the total 60 Assembly seats, 20 fall in the hill districts.

On the flip side, the Biren government was accused of cracking down on voices of dissent, with a series of arrests under the UAPA. These included at least three of journalists, with Kishorchandra Wangkhem detained under the NSA twice. Setting him free, the court said the allegations against him did not constitute sedition.

The Congress, on the other hand, has been sliding since the BJP outsmarted it to seize power. Leaders who have left the party in the past five years include Govinda Konthoujam, Th Shyamkumar, Yamthong Haokip, RK Imo, Ksh Biren, Okram Henry (the nephew of Ibobi Singh) and, recently, Tengnoupal MLA D Korungthang.

Manipur Congress chief Keisham Meghachandra said it was the BJP’s “habit” to “buy” legislators from other parties. “This is not good governance… The truth is that highways are still terrible, there is corruption, unemployment and harassment of people for just exercising their freedom of speech. People are aware this government is anti-people. We will campaign along these lines,” he said.

One of the BJP’s biggest headaches might be the demand by the Hill Areas Committee for a Bill to give more powers to Autonomous District Councils. The tribal bodies have launched a series of agitations demanding the Bill, but the government is stalling citing legal issues.

The BJP might also hit a hurdle on deciding candidates, as fierce competition is on for party tickets, with as many as five-six vying for some Assembly constituencies. With no certainty on his CM candidature, Biren Singh would have to manage this right to strengthen his chances. Many believe infighting within might be a bigger threat to the BJP than the Congress.

The recent violence by supporters of Congress-turned-BJP leader Govindas Konthoujam, including shots in the air, may be a sign of the things to come. The incident was prompted by reports that Konthoujam might not get a ticket.

Since the Nagaland incident left 14 dead in action by security forces, the demand for repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has got a renewed push in the Northeast. Though it remains to be seen how this plays out or reflects on the BJP in the campaign, the opposition to AFSPA has historically been the strongest in Manipur.

BJP spokesperson Chongtham Bijoy said he was confident the party would return to power with 40 seats and that distribution of tickets would not be an issue. “Maximum efforts are being put in at the state and Centre level. The frequent visits of central leaders speak for themselves. The Congress is a house in disarray,” he said.

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