Congress at Comfort in Manipur

Due to economic blockade, its advantage Ibobi Singh and the Congress Party in Manipur


While everybody is talking about the five state assembly polls, least talked state poll in 2017 is Manipur Assembly Poll as the state sends 2 Lok Sabha members and one Rajya Sabha lawmakers. Since, it is going to polls with Uttar Pradesh, this was bound to happen, but in democracy, each state has its own importance and they have their own issue which matters politically too. Till three month ago, things were looking out of control for the ruling Congress party in Imphal but after the economic blockade, chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh has all of a sudden become active and talk of the town for the Manipuris.

Same is the case with Congress party workers, who were jittery few days ago but now ever since the Ibobi Singh government has created Kangpokpi, Pherzawl and Tengnoupal districts, they are at cloud nine. The grand old party is looking unperturbed by the mass desertion from its sitting MLAs and other grass root leaders because all of a sudden the economic blockade has put chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh into the driver’s seat. However, it’s for sure that Congress will be facing challenge from its national rival BJP. Sharad Pawar’s NCP, Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP and Mamata Banerjee’s Trinmool Congress have lost their ground to the Congress party in last three months.

The coming election is expected to be a close and straight fight between the Congress and the BJP. The stakes are equally high for both with Congress having won more than a two third majority in the 2012 assembly elections and having been in power for three consecutive terms; and the BJP being in power at the Centre. The Congress, however, seems to be having an edge over the BJP because of certain considerations.

The three major and immediate issues that are in the minds of the people are: formation of new districts; a three month old economic blockade by the United Naga Council (UNC) on National Highway No. 39; and territorial integrity of the state in view of the ongoing talks between the Centre and insurgent group NSCN (IM). The sentiments of the people with regard to these three seem to be more conducive to the success of the Congress rather than that of the BJP.

The Kuki-Chin-Mizo (KCM) tribes in the hills of the state are by and large happy with the Congress ministry’s decision to form Kangpokpi, Pherzawl and Tengnoupal districts just as the Meiteis who constitute an overwhelming majority of the people in the valley are happy with the creation of Jiri and Kakching districts.

The BJP, for its part, does not want to antagonize the plainsmen and the KCM people and so cannot afford to vocally condemn the creation of the new districts.

The Congress has condemned the UNC in no uncertain terms for the ongoing economic blockade; the BJP has been blaming the state government for it and appealing the UNC to call it off. As for talks with the insurgents, commitment to the protection of territorial integrity of the state and fighting against any possible threat to it — mainly from the UNC and NSCN (IM)’s demand for cessation of Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur as part of political unification of Naga inhabited areas — the Congress’ stand seems much clear.

The Congress is likely to win at least in 10 of the 20 constituencies in the hills, with not less than six from the KCM dominated ones. The interference from militant groups, which has become an important feature in the electoral politics of the hills of the state, is not likely to change this.

The prospects of the BJP in the hills are further reduced because of the Naga People’s Front (NPF) there. This means much depends on the contests in the valley constituencies for winning a clear majority for the Congress, or for the BJP to have a real chance to dislodge the Congress. The possibility of other parties — CPI, Manipur People’s Party, among others — making much of a splash is also not so bright.

That the BJP which didn’t win even a single seat in the 2012 assembly elections has emerged as one of the only two contenders reiterates once again the sway the party in power in Delhi has over state politics in Manipur. So far both the Congress and the BJP are in no hurry to enter into alliances. However, in case of a divided verdict, BJP will definitely go along with NPF whereas Congress will look for other tie-ups. But as things stand at present, the Congress is likely to win a clear majority or at least emerge as the single largest party inside the state unless BJP succeeds in doing something stupendous to drive away apprehensions among the plainsmen and the KCM people that it is giving preferential treatment to the NSCN (IM) and the UNC at the expense of their fundamental interests.