By Ashima Makhija
Campaigning for the first phase of the Manipur Assembly Election 2017 came to an end on 2nd March. It is time to analyse the militant battlefield of the state as well as the combat zones of the various parties.
Behold the King
Bharatiya Janata Party, whose presence in the State Legislative Assembly has been minimal in the last three elections, has expanded its outreach in the state. The 78th titular ‘King of Manipur’, Sanajaoba, was present at BJP’s most recent rally. He rarely makes public appearances nowadays. Although he did not make a speech, his presence brought about a flurry of excitement in the crowd. In the Congress Raj over the previous three terms, Manipur’s King has been largely neglected. Despite him holding the title of the customary head of state – according to the Merger Agreement 1949 – by which the Kingdom of Manipur became part of India. On 25th February, Sanajaoba gave a speech in Imphal – at PM Modi’s political rally – where he offered his support to the BJP and RSS ideology and said, “ …I, on my part, have requested state and national BJP leaders, and they have given assurance that the territorial integrity of Manipur will not be compromised’’ . This could help BJP gain the support of the people as the King continues to be a symbol of the culture and identity of Manipur, thus helping consolidate the Meitei vote bank.
The pivotal issue surrounding the elections in Manipur is the ongoing economic blockade, which started in November on behest of the United Naga Council. The UNC is the top body of the Naga’s in the state and the organisation. By blocking two vital national highways, they have crippled life in the Imphal valley. The Manipur Congress Legislature Party (CLP) has asked the Centre to declare UNC an “unlawful organisation”. The UNC has retaliated by alleging that Congress is playing at communal politics. The issue first arose when the Congress government – led by CM Ibobi Singh – created seven districts, dividing the ancestral land of the Naga people. This was considered a masterstroke to secure votes of the Meitei and Kuki. In retaliation to this ‘bifurcation of the territory of the Naga’s’, the UNC commenced with the economic blockade, which – despite attempts at bilateral talks – has not yet ceased.
Blockade as a key factor
With the approaching elections, the controversy has become politically contentious and the UNC has repeatedly emphasised on how MCPP has pushed the Nagas against the wall and has called the Naga territory ‘non-negotiable’. On 27th February, the UNC released a statement, shedding light on its position with regard to the upcoming elections. On one hand, they have encouraged the Naga people to participate in the democratic process. while on the other, people were asked to not cast their vote for the MCPP but only for the Naga’s People Front (NPF). The organization explained that the NPF “which seeks to work and assist in any possible manner on any approach for a peaceful solution to the Indo-Naga political issue and for integration of all contiguous Naga areas under one administrative roof will be the bandwagon on which the Nagas in Manipur will face the 11th General Election to the Manipur Legislative Assembly.”
Therefore, an economic blockade aimed at preserving the ancestral rights of the Naga community has transformed into a large-scale political war wherein the Union ministers blame the state government, the Congress blames the UNC, and the UNC is influencing the electoral results by pushing the people to vote for NPF.
BJP sniffs a reversal of fate
What’s more is that the electoral campaign has revolved around widespread corruption in the state. Congress CM Ibobi Singh was called ‘Mr. 10 percent’ with reference to his corrupt practices. The BJP leaders have often said that corruption has become institutionalised in the state, which is the primary reason for the lack of infrastructure and development. Prime Minister Modi has promised to build up a tourism sector and bring about economic development across Manipur. Large-scale security arrangements have been made in the state for the first phase of the polls, scheduled to be held on 4th March. A large part of the Imphal valley is expected to vote, despite the attempts to scuttle the poll process. A massive deployment of central forces has been made in the state with the Election Commission closely monitoring the entire process. Only time will tell whether this has been a free and fair election.