Manipur Elections: The lessons Congress and BJP should learn from the state's political history

Manipur recently experienced one of the most significant elections of all time. BJP's mandate in the Manipur Assembly election 2017 was unprecedented. Since the beginning of the 21st century, up until 2012, the state elections usually have just been a one-party show. But this time there has emerged a strong contender to the incumbent. The results in the state have many lessons for the two big contenders to power and the politicking they have been playing so far.

Let us begin with the lessons which the Congress party needs to learn from its loss in the latest elections. In the past two elections in particular, the Congress party had enjoyed a rather unchallenged ride to power. But this time, they had to fight for every single seat and run for their money. Further, in an unusual way, the party has failed to even win adequate number of seats to form government on its own despite having been in power under a single leadership for almost one-and-half decades. This implies what the people of the state wanted to convey to the party. First, the people are asserting their disapproval of the way the state has been governed since the beginning of this century. This disapproval can cover various arena spread over development, ethnicity, governance (read corruption and effectiveness of development delivery) and territorial jurisdictional issues.

Okram Ibobi Singh. Reuters

Okram Ibobi Singh. Reuters

In the last decade Manipur has experienced a deepening and widening of ethnicity-based political articulations. The general population of any ethnicity have only borne the costs of these orientations instead of realising any benefit out of it; the masses have been expecting early redressal of these grievances. Further, corruption and the emergence of a strong coterie of beneficiaries of administration have been widely talked about in Manipur society during the last decade. These have been further complicated by jurisdictional issues over territory by various ethnicity. Second, consequent upon this disapproval, the people are expressing through the latest round of elections that they have been looking for an alternative to the Congress party. Third, this looking out for an alternative, significantly implies that the people do want to change in terms of real social transformation. All these implications need to be minutely digested by the Congress party as the recent trend of their declining influence can very well lead up to the status of a regional party.

Now the next question relates to the BJP. Well this party has done very well; from only one member in the last Assembly, it has been able to return twenty-one on its own in the just concluded elections. Despite the organisational weaknesses and the ticket allocation controversies, this party has performed very well. It has also given a new level of orientation, depth and articulations in the electoral discourses in Manipur. While the incumbent chief minister was in the driver’s seat in all the mobilisations and strategies for the 2017 elections, towards the end he was put on the defensive thanks to this new approach. But the reality is that all this has not been enough. Despite the widespread disapproval of the character and quality of the incumbent Congress government, this party could not convert the disapproval into favour. Now what does this mean? First, it implies that the people of Manipur are yet to be fully convinced of the suitability of BJP as a substitute to Congress in so far as the interests and issues of Manipur are concerned. The people of Manipur has seen the party as rather a lesser evil of the two choices. Second, the ultimate foundation of the Party in terms of cultural and religious orientations have been suspects. Third, the people expect a definitive stand of the party on the core socio-political issues of Manipur before fully putting the party in charge of the affairs of Manipur.

It is in such a context that some candidates from smaller parties have returned to power. This implies that the local population rather expect the limited issues of their constituencies to be addressed in spite of fully opting for the larger national parties. In other words, this means the lack of generalised credibility of the two main contending parties. Further the return of the Congress candidate from Ukhrul constituency itself, given the jurisdictional issues in recent years, conveys a lot in terms of what the people want in terms of political articulations and mobilisations vis-à-vis the ethnicity-based strategies.

Now, the Manipuri people have not approved the outcomes of the Congress party’s rule of fifteen years but have not fully opted for the BJP either. People want change, but are still not fully confident about the credibility of the BJP to deliver either. This is where the BJP needs to be extra cautious. The party has got quite a few among their winners who are not very different from their Congress counterparts who lost in the elections. This demands that the leader of the Legislative wing of the party should be someone with experience, credibility and who is committed to find solution to the core issues of Manipur. This challenge cannot be faced by political novices despite their impressive recent performances.


Published Date: Mar 17, 2017 01:50 pm | Updated Date: Mar 17, 2017 01:50 pm