Manipur Election 2017: Congress, BJP emerge as equal contenders as Modi's rally gives needed push to saffron party

'Is the Congress or BJP backing the economic blockade in Manipur?'

The trouble ridden state will go for the first phase polls on Saturday with this unanswered question before it, as both the national parties accuse each other of backing United Naga Council, a civil society organisation that has been continuing with the economic blockade in the state for the last four months causing hardship in the valleys of the state.

While addressing his maiden rally in Manipur on 24 February, prime minister Narendra Modi accused the ruling Congress party of clandestinely supporting the economic blockade to derive political advantage. Accusing the chief minister of inciting the UNC to impose the economic blockade he said, “On the one hand he incites and provokes the people against the blockade, on the other hand he pays money to those who have called the blockade.” He also assured that Manipur will be free from economic blockade if BJP comes to power in the state.

Modi's allegation was seen as a strategy to counter the Congress party’s political narrative that the BJP was supporting the UNC to continue with the blockade. The Congress has been alleging that the BJP in connivance with the NSCN(IM) was planning to compromise the territorial integrity of Manipur by accepting the long standing demand of Greater Nagaland of the insurgent outfit.
The Congress shot back with the Chief Minister taking a jibe on the Prime Minister’s words that the state will be free from economic blockade if BJP comes to power.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Asking whether economic blockade will continue if the saffron party does not come to power in the state, the Chief Minister said, “Such remarks from him show that BJP, UNC, NSCN (IM) are working hand in glove.”

Manipur Congress spokesperson L Ibomcha Singh also filed a complaint in the Election Commission accusing the Prime Minister of supporting economic blockade JNU teacher A Bimol Akoijam who is presently camping in Manipur said to Firstpost that allegations and counter allegations of backing the economic blockade have reached such a magnitude that many seem to have forgotten the reality that it was the UNC and not any political party that has imposed the economic blockade.

The possibility of a hung assembly gains prominence as both BJP and Congress take on each other with equal might in the assembly constituencies based in the Meitei dominated valleys. “Certainly the Prime Minister’s rally before the election gives BJP’s campaign an impetus, but that does not rule out the possibility of a hung assembly, as both the party has seen a number of influential leaders switching sides in recent times,” he said.

At least five leaders of the ruling Congress Party joined BJP in recent times including stalwarts like N Biren Singh and Eerabot. On the other hand BJP lost a number of it’s leaders to Congress including one of it’s two MLAs Khumukcham Joykishan. With no other party being able to throw much contest, both the national party are racing with equal speed in the Meitei dominated valleys.
But experts say that the ruling Congress might have an edge over the saffron party in the seats where Muslim voters are a factor. “There are at least ten constituencies where Manipuri Muslim voters are scattered. Traditionally these voters side with Congress and are likely to practice the same this time also,” said Oinam Bhagat, another JNU teacher from.

Manipur elects at least three Muslim candidates to its Assembly every year, but the BJP has fielded only one candidate from the party, whereas the Congress has fielded three of them. On the other hand, the Naga People’s Front a regional political party, that is also a part of the NDA at the centre is likely to emerge as a major player in the Naga dominated hills. “Nagas in Manipur can play a decisive role in 12 out of 19 seats reserved seats for tribals in the hills of the state. In 2012 assembly election NPF bagged four seats out of them. This number is likely to increase due to ethnic polarization this time around,” said Dr Akoijam.

He also said that if the BJP manages to win 22 seats out of 40 in the valleys, it would be quite easy for it to form a government as it can get a NPF as a major contributor of MLAs in the house of 60 members. The UNC has also expressed support to NPF due to "commonality in principle and political ideology." The Congress may have an edge over BJP in the seven Kuki dominated seats in the hills, says a Kuki leader George Guite.

“The Kuki people in the hills are happy with the state government’s decision to create seven districts, as it will bring about better governance in the region,” he said. He also said that the Congress party may be the party of first preference in many such constituencies and BJP here may emerge as the party with second preference. But he also observed that the acceptability of the candidate may also play a role in decision making of the electorate. Manipur is reeling under severe ethnic tension after the UNC imposed economic blockade on November 1 last year, protesting the state government’s decision to create seven districts, ‘dividing the Naga areas.’

Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 09:24 AM

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