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Manipur election 2017: BJP's warmth for NPF threatens to shrink its crucial Meitei voter base

The sudden resignation of Khumukcham Joykishan from BJP, amidst crisis and his joining the Congress thereafter, has endangered saffron party’s prospects in poll-bound Manipur, besides raising doubts on its political strategy in the state.

Joykishan’s resignation has attracted headlines in the national media not only because he joined the Congress at a time when the party is hardly seen as an alternative to BJP, but also because it underlines the flaws in the saffron party’s handling of the Naga Peace Talks.

 Manipur election 2017: BJPs warmth for NPF threatens to shrink its crucial Meitei voter base

Representational photo. AFP

According to the Imphal Times, the MLA’s decision to resign was reportedly prompted by an ultimatum issued by a civil society organization to boycott BJP if it failed to unfold the content of framework of the agreement between the Centre and NSCN(IM) within 24 December.

The mystery

Since very little about the ongoing peace talks is known even by the party men, it was unlikely that the party would be able to meet the public demand and Joykishan chose to resign before it was too late.

He was one of the two BJP MLAs who opened the saffron party’s account in the Legislative Assembly, but his resignation marks the shift in public perception of the saffron party among the Meiteis.

The swing in public mood reaffirms the view that, since the centre is going hush-hush on the framework of the agreement, it was a political necessity for the saffron party to allay fears. For the talks also include the issue of territorial integrity of Manipur, given the NSCN(IM)’s longstanding demand to create a Greater Nagaland claiming a vast stretch of Naga inhabited land in the state.

Questions about the content of the Naga peace talks framework of agreement emerged after the United Naga Council (UNC) imposed economic blockade. In a bid to protest the Manipur government’s move to create new districts bifurcating Naga inhabited land, the UNC stopped the movement of goods through two National Highways to the plains of the state where the Hindu Meiteis who are also BJP’s primary voter base dwell.

In a recent memorandum to the Ministry of Home Affairs the UNC sought, "Political intervention from the Government of India…to settle the Indo-Naga political issue once and for all for it is impossible for the Nagas to live under the oppressive and hegemonic communal Government of Manipur."

Unanswered questions

The questions those have been lurking behind for a long time and have re-emerged during this crisis are:
Whether the silence on the peace talks on part of both the government of India and NSCN(IM) is prompted by the genuine demand of the situation? Or is it a mere tactic to keep the people of Manipur in the dark about any compromise made on the territorial integrity of the state, before assembly elections?

What is the true nature of BJP’s relationship in Manipur with Naga People’s Front, a regional party which is in power in Nagaland with support from the saffron party and is seen as a political force competing with Meitei and Kuki identity politics?

Is the BJP’s decision to not go for a pre-poll alliance with NPF in Manipur only for optics before the elections in the state? Or is it an outcome of genuine commitment to the issues of the Meiteis and Kukis?

Whether BJP will go for a post-poll alliance with the NPF to form a government in Manipur if so required? In that case, how will be the interests of the rest of the ethnic groups in the state be safeguarded, when NPF itself supports the cause of Greater Nagaland?

The state unit of BJP overseen by the party’s national secretary Ram Madhav, reportedly handpicked by none other than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself as an expert in Jammu and Kashmir and North East India, was expected to answer them to convince the people of the party’s honest intention to solve the long-standing political problem in the region and not of playing hide and seek.

But if Ram Madhav’s statements aggravated tension in Jammu and Kashmir, his lack of it did the same in poll-bound Manipur.

Echoing the public emotion, on the present crisis and BJP's mishandling of it, across hills and valleys of Manipur, George Guwatye, a Kuki leader in Manipur told Firstpost, "People have been led to believe that the Congress has a clearer policy on Naga Peace Talks than BJP."

New narrative

Even as the BJP grapples to find convincing answers to the questions raised in public, the Congress surfaces a new narrative indicating that the saffron party has sided with the Nagas in the present crisis.

Okram Ibobi Singh, the chief minister of Manipur said to The Indian Express in an interview, "Since the central government is in peace talks with the NSCN(IM), they can easily put pressure on the United Naga Council to call off the economic blockade, which has caused much suffering here."

Adding to the new theory propounded by him the chief minister said that as soon as tension started building up he went to meet Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh but did not find a favorable response.

What has made the Congress narrative look more convincing is Ram Madhav’s perceived closeness with Naga People’s Front, a party with a political stand competing with that of Meiteis and Kukis.

Many in the Meitei and Kuki intelligentsia suspect that BJP is playing second fiddle to the NPF in Manipur, in a bid to capture power.

Paojel Chaoba, a political commentator wrote in The Imphal Free Press, "In Manipur, the NPF seemed sanguine with the understanding that it would look for votes amongst the Nagas in the hills while the BJP would bank on Meitei votes in the valley."

The suspicion was vindicated when BJP sacked three of its functionaries after raising voice against alleged corruption in the NPF government in Nagaland led by the Chief Minister TR Zeliang.

BJP being seen as the second fiddle to NPF before the Manipur election, not only raises doubt among the Meiteis living in the plains about the party’s honesty in its commitment to them showed in the last six months but also is viewed as a political mischief played to win over the state.

Added to these woes was the centre’s inability to deal with the crisis in due time has caused much bitterness in the valley. By the time Joykishan joined the Congress, Manipur might have received 4,000 paramilitary troops to deal with the situation. But that could hardly help to recover the erosion in trust the BJP faced in the last one month.

Being a party hopper, Joykishan who was earlier a Trinamool Congress MLA but crossed the floor to join BJP last year was perhaps early to read the shift in public mood. His resignation along with the new narrative conjured by the Congress only fortifies the popular suspicion.

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Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 19:29:58 IST