At the time of publishing of this article, the news channel CNN-News 18 called the election, where the Indian National Congress secured 28 seats, Bharatiya Janta Party secured 21 seats and other parties secured 11 votes. Irom Sharmila's maiden election contest remained fruitless. She fought and lost miserably against Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, securing only 90 votes from the Thoubal constituency where she contested.
While Manipur's political battle remained close between the two political giants — Congress and BJP — here are the key takeaways from this fight.
The Congress may be the largest single party in Manipur (as of now), but not large enough to form the government. The BJP is almost neck and neck, and that is a major achievement, considering it is the party’s first formal foray into the state. In fact the BJP may be in a better position to cobble up the required numbers with help from smaller parties like the Naga Peoples Party.
It was quite apparent after the BJP swept into power in Assam that the north-east was opening up to prime minister Narendra Modi’s party. From having just two BJP MLA’s in the last assembly, and that too through two by-elections, on Saturday, the BJP now is in the position to form the government, with the help of the smaller tribal parties.
The winds of change which threw out Tarun Gogoi and the Congress party from Assam, has now gathered steam. Arunachal Pradesh is already with the BJP, in Meghalaya too, where the Congress is in power, the BJP’s popularity is growing day by day. In Nagaland the party is part of the coalition. Mizoram remains with the Congress and Tripura has a Left government.
Congress's success in the state has nothing to do with central leadership or Rahul Gandhi. It is mainly thanks to chief minister Ibobi Singh who runs Manipur with some degree of autonomy. If he is able to form the government he will be chief minister for a fourth consecutive term, which is no small achievement.
The Meites of the valley, who are staunch Hindus are natural constituents of the BJP. However the fear of fragmentation, by giving away the hill areas of Manipur to the Naga’s led them to be somewhat wary of the BJP. Ibobi Singh is a clever politician and the addition of seven new revenue districts to the existing nine, has helped. The Nagas in the hills are angry that their areas have been divided, while the Kukis are happy that there demand for a separate revenue district has been met. This was done late last year with an eye on elections.
The fact that a framework agreement signed between the Centre and the NSCN (IM) in 2015, was kept a secret, helped chief minister Ibobi Singh to play on the fears of the Meities. The prime minister’s assurance during the campaign that the accord with Naga leaders would not affect the territorial integrity of the state, worked up to a point. But not entirely. However the BJP has been able to garner seats both in the valley which has 40 seats, and the hills which has 20 seats. There is bitter division between the hills and the valley (Nagas and the Meiteis), as well as among the Kukis and Nagas who live in the hills.
It is surprising that the tribal Christian states of the North East, which in the past was afraid that a Hindu nationalist party like the BJP will harm their interests, is enthusiastic about Narendra Modi. They were not quite so enthusiastic about either Atal Bihairi Vajpayee or LK Advani. But somehow the Modi magic which seems to work on the average Indian also affects the remote north eastern states. They believe he is dynamic and will deliver on his promise of development. Though there is little sign of "aache din" the prime minister’s messaging has been perfect. They have faith and are ready to wait.
Most of these small states, completely dependent on Delhi for funds, also believe that it is in their interest to be with the ruling party at the Centre.
The 'Look East' policy, first initiated by former prime minister Narasimha Rao, and now reframed as 'Act East' policy, by Modi, was also meant to help develop the isolated region. The North East is connected to the mainland by what is commonly referred to as the 'chicken neck', a small strip of territory between north Bengal and Bangladesh, through which the Indian railway line connects the region to the mainland. The idea was to build infrastructure and roads to connect this region to the throbbing markets of ASEAN. Moreh is a bustling town in the Kuki dominated Tengnoupal district of Manipur. It borders Myanmar . The India-Myanmar friendship bridge in Moreh connects India to the town of Kalewa in the Sagaing district of Myanmar. The highway in the Myanmar side runs up to Mandalay. There are plans to overhaul and modernise the Integrated Check Post in Moreh. A check post is already there for trade with the border villages of the two countries. But this has to be further modernised.
Plans of connecting Manipur to the Asian Highway have been afoot since 2012, but progress has been slow. By 2016 there should have been a motorable road from the North East to Bangkok via Myanmar. This would be from Moreh in Manipur to Mae Scot in Myanmar-Thai border. All this has been in the making but at a snails speed.
People here are hoping under Narendra Modi, these projects would be given top priority and the promised road and rail infrastructure will be in place to help trade with the rest of East Asia.
Published Date: Mar 11, 2017 19:32 PM | Updated Date: Mar 11, 2017 21:05 PM