In a letter to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) in Manipur has demanded a ban on the United Naga Council (UNC) for continuing its economic blockade, thereby, putting the NDA government at the Centre in a Catch-22 situation.
The demand — reaching the BJP’s table at a tricky time just before the Assembly election — if accepted, may result in a loss of the party’s newly-garnered support in the Naga areas and cause further erosion of trust among the Meitei voters.
The CLP in Manipur, in a meeting held on Saturday, decided to urge the prime minister to declare the UNC illegal, says a report published by The Indian Express.
A copy of the letter sent to the PMO, accessed by Firstpost, says that the UNC has illegally continued the indefinite economic blockade for over three months, which has affected communal harmony in the state and has caused unbearable hardship to the people of Manipur and hence, the Congress demands that it should be declared unlawful.
How a possible ban may affect politics in the plains?
Support for the saffron party has been increasing gradually until it was stopped by the economic blockade imposed on 1 November last year.
The BJP-led Centre was seen at a loss while tackling the new challenge thrown up by the blockade.
Since the Meiteis in the plains, who are seen as the core voters of the saffron party, are the worst-affected by the blockade, it was expected that the NDA government would take prompt counter-action to protect them from misery. On the contrary, the Centre was rather late in its move to send paramilitary forces as a counter-measure.
Pradip Pahanjoubam, an intellectual in Manipur, wrote in The Indian Express about this delay made by the Government of India: "It should have done this at least a month ago, when as a consequence of an indefinite blockade on the lifelines of Manipur by the UNC over the anticipated creation of two new administrative districts, signs of retaliation from those at the receiving end of the blockade began showing."
The ruling Congress has been trying to capitalise on this failure to mobilise Meitei support in its favour by forwarding a new narrative hinting that this failure was intentional and that the Centre has sided with the UNC.
Okram Ibobi Singh, the chief minister of Manipur told 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 UNC to call off the economic blockade, which has caused much suffering here."
The letter demanding a ban on the UNC is seen as a new political pressure on the BJP. The dispensation runs the risk of being seen by the valley dwellers as siding with the UNC, if it rejects the demand. This may result in further slide in its core support base which it is so keen to retain.
Affect on the hills
Though the ethnic tension has resulted in a drop in BJP’s support base in the Meitei dominated plains, Naga emotions in the hills of Manipur are either in favour of BJP or it’s NDA ally Naga People’s Front (NPF).
In recent times, the saffron brigade has seen a number of Congress leaders in the Naga dominated areas switching their loyalty to BJP, boosting the party’s prospect in the upcoming election.
A Bimol Akoijam, a JNU teacher told Firstpost, “Even if the BJP wins 22 seats on its own from the plains, it is likely to form a government in Manipur with a post-poll alliance with NPF. The NPF is likely to gain more number of seats this time around than it did in the earlier election in the Naga dominated constituencies.”
He also added that of the 19 seats reserved for the tribals in the state, nearly 12 have a substantial number of Naga voters, who can play a decisive role in electing a candidate.
In the last Assembly election, the NPF fielded 11 candidates and won only four. But the recent ethnic tension has resulted in swelling of Naga nationalistic emotion laying a fertile ground for NPF, a regional party, that has been representing the Naga identity politics in the region.
Enthused by this shift in political dynamics, the regional party has increased the number of fielded candidates to 15 this time around.
Accepting the CLP’s demand to ban UNC may not only mean diminishing the saffron party’s prospect in the Naga dominated areas, but also strain political ties with the NPF, that has been enjoying strong support from the civil society organisation for the last 10 years.
The political equation prior to ethnic tension
Good days for Manipur BJP began just after the results of the Assam Assembly election were announced last year.
Bhabananda Singh, the president of Manipur at that time, told Firstpost, “The political situation in Manipur somewhat resembles Assam. Like Assam's large Hindu population, we have a sizable Meitei population who are also mostly Hindus.”
He also said that Nagas and Kukis who stay in the hills are mostly Christians.
Being seen as a party with a ‘Hindutva’ agenda, BJP’s focus was to win as many as 27 seats in the Meitei Hindu dominated plains and garner post-poll support in the Assembly to reach the tally of 31 seats required to form a government in the state that has 60 Assembly constituencies.
Ethnic tension can potentially affect BJP's prospects in the Meitei dominated plains, polarisation among Nagas, in favour of NPF and the BJP, could be the only hope.
It remains to be seen if the BJP will gain by banning UNC.
Updated Date: Feb 14, 2017 11:24 AM