Assembly elections in Manipur are due early next year. The term of the present Assembly ends on March 18, 2017. The Election Commission has announced that polls in Manipur will be held shortly after the Union budget is presented on February 1.
The Congress has been in power in Manipur for the last ten years. But this time the situation is different. As in the rest of the country, the Congress seems to have lost its elan here also. Anti-incumbency feelings are palpable.
In the past decade, Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh’s government could not do much to solve the problems chronically bedevilling the State’s politics. It failed to reduce the alienation between the plains and the hills or, to put it differently, between the valley Meiteis and the different tribes that live in the hills.
Even the hills do not present a homogeneous picture. There are many tribes and sub-tribes. The Nagas and the Kukis are the major tribes each having its set of conflicting demands. The Nagas want the Naga-inhabited areas merged in the proposed Greater Nagaland or Nagalim, while the Kukis are demanding a separate Kuki State. The Meiteis are opposed to both.
The party loyalty of the elected representatives of the people is notoriously fickle. For an outsider, it's hard to keep track of the defections and re-defections of the legislators. Party hopping goes on merrily most of the time. This also has created a sentiment among the people against the existing political parties.
The BJP has taken advantage of the situation and is striving hard to strike roots in the State. It opened its account in the State Assembly exactly a year ago when it won two by-elections. Since then several Central BJP leaders including party president Amit Shah have visited the State. They have been trying hard to build up a party organisation that will be ready to take on the challenge of winning the Assembly polls and ushering in the first BJP government in the State. By contrast, the Congress does not show that fighting spirit.
The BJP’s primary aim is to polarise the election battle between itself and the Congress, eliminating or marginalising the smaller players like the Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP). But it is highly unlikely that it will get much response from the Nagas and the Kukis – the two major hill tribes. The BJP will also try to take full advantage of its move to connect the State with the rest of the country by railway, as part of its “Act East Policy’.
The construction of the 111-km long Jiribam-Tulpul-Imphal broad gauge line was taken up in January 2008, as a national project. The new line will be an engineering marvel. It will have the Indian Railway’s longest tunnel of 10.75 km and a shorter one of 4.9 km. Once completed, it is expected to give a substantial boost to Manipur’s economy. From the defence point of view also, it will be a major project.
Also, insurgency at the moment is at a low ebb, barring occasional incidents. This will be conducive to speeding up development work. The coming to power of the Hasina Government in Bangladesh and its total denial of sanctuary to the different north-eastern insurgent groups operating from its soil was a great help to India to deal effectively with the insurgency in Manipur.
For the record, there are as many as 45 insurgent groups in Manipur, but most of these are paper organisations. The major insurgent outfits like the MPLF, the UNLF, the KCP, and the KYKL have ceased to be the menace that they once were.
These are all Manipuri or Meitei insurgent groups. But the two major tribal rebel outfits, the Khaplang faction of the NSCM and the Kuki National Army are still active, especially the first one.
Bridging the gulf between the plains and hills peoples of Manipur remains a significant challenge. This can be addressed adequately only when the State and Union Governments, working in unison, make a determined bid to reach out to the hill peoples and bring them into the mainstream.
This time, Manipur will also see a new entrant in the election arena. She is Irom Chanu Sharmila who has already made herself world famous by undertaking a sixteen-year hunger strike demanding the withdrawal of the draconian AFSPA. She realised that hunger strike would not lead her anywhere near her objective. So she ended her fast on August 9 and floated her political party, the People’s Resurgence and Justice Alliance. She announced her aim to become the Chief Minister of Manipur so that the AFSPA could be repealed. She is likely to contest Chief Minister Ibobi.
Unfortunately for her, her close friends and associates did not take kindly to her ending the hunger strike. They wanted her to continue it, regardless of its result. As things stand, it is doubtful how much electoral support she will get and what impact her party will make in the State’s politics. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)