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Manipur's fate in Delhi's hands

Manipurs fate in Delhis hands

New Delhi/Imphal: Manipur in northeast India will go to the polls to elect its new legislature on Feb 27 and March 3. It is a small state bordering Myanmar and has 60 seats in the assembly. The statehood for Manipur came on January 21, 1972, and it is one of the development-starved provinces of India where several militant groups belonging to several ethnic communities work.

Even as recently as in November, a major ambush took place and a senior army officer, Col Viplap Tripathi, his nine-year-old son and wife were killed.

For a long time, the state had been under Congress rule. Okram Ibobi Singh ruled the state for three consecutive terms between 2002 and 2017. Five years back also, under Ibobi, the Congress show was good as it could win as many as 28 seats.

But falling short of three seats to attain a simple majority, it lost power to the BJP which had won only 21 seats. Being in power in Delhi always gives the advantage to do political machinations in the northeast. Congress had been doing this for a long time and now the saffron party is exploiting these inherent weaknesses.

The BJP tied up with regional parties NPP and Naga People's Front (NPF) - each had won four seats. NPP led by Conrad Sangma, son of former Lok Sabha Speaker P A Sangma is a BJP ally in Meghalaya.

The NPF also has done business with the BJP both in Nagaland and in the Centre. Now in 2022, in the run-up to the polls, the BJP is comfortable with 30 MLAs in the present assembly and the Congress strength is reduced to 20 from 28. This also shows how the defection game is a thriving political art in this state.

The BJP is in power in alliance with regional outfits but has now decided to contest all 60 seats on its own. Most of the BJP ministers and future ticket seekers are ex-Congress leaders. Chief Minister N Biren Singh, also a former Congressman, had joined the Lotus party only in 2016.

Even on Sunday, Jan 9, Tipaimukh legislator belonging to Congress and state unit vice-president Chaltonlien Amo joined the BJP. Ibobi's own nephew Okram Henry has also joined the BJP.

The NPF which draws its strength from Naga tribal population won four seats in 2017 and this time has set a target of 10. Similarly, NPP may target 15 seats maximum. Both these parties will do business with either the Congress or the BJP depending on the outcome after March 10 when votes will be counted in all five poll-bound states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

The Congress strategy in Manipur is often baffling. Last five years, it could not create a 'younger' mass-level leader to be projected as the chief minister. Now it is technically dependent on Ibobi Singh, 73. But the high command has indicated that it will not project any chief ministerial face in any of the five states including in Punjab - where Charanjit Singh Channi is now the Chief Minister and the Congress leadership is also banking a lot on Navjot Singh Sidhu.

In the northeastern region, Congress has been marginalized in all states leaving the space either to regional parties or the BJP. In adjacent Nagaland, for about two decades now, the Congress has been out of power. For practical purposes, it is the principal opposition force but it could not put up candidates in all 60 segments in the 2018 assembly polls.

The reason was the paucity of funds. "Contesting elections in the northeast is an expensive affair. The BJP is a resourceful party and hence the craze for Lotus party tickets. In the case of Congress, there is a severe fund crunch. In Nagaland 2018 polls, Congress could not put up a candidate in all 60 seats due to paucity of funds," says one Congress leader.

However, the elections in Manipur is still not a totally one-sided affair and there would still be some anti-incumbency votes against the BJP. For reasons not convincingly explained, the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee is not visible in action in Manipur. This is a bit baffling as the same TMC has been hyperactive about Goa.

In Meghalaya also a former Chief Minister Mukul Sangma and several Congress legislators have joined the Mamata-led party. But such leaders are hardly assigned any election-related work in Manipur.

In Assam also, Congress is still a force but it could not again oust the BJP in 2021 polls largely due to the failure to convert the support base to votes.

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TAGS:Manipur Delhi 
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