The Congress is confident of returning to power for the fourth time on the trot in Manipur, riding the growing wave of anger over the ongoing economic blockade and apprehension about the state’s territorial integrity. “We will win more than a two-thirds majority in the state. The people have understood very well the game plan of the BJP. They are hand in gloves with those who have called this blockade and are a threat to the territorial integrity of Manipur,” state Congress spokesperson K H Joykishan told PTI. Polling for the 60-seat Manipur Assembly will take place in two phases on March 4 and March 8. It seems that the Congress, which is vying for a fourth term under the leadership of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, has been able to shed the baggage of anti-incumbency after its one-and-a-half decade rule, marred by allegations of fake encounters, corruption and human rights violation.
The party has tried to make the economic blockade and threat to the territorial integrity of Manipur, if the BJP comes to power, major poll issues.
Even in June last year, with the resurgence of the BJP in the state and several Congress leaders joining it, it looked like the Congress was going to have a tough time in the 2017 Assembly polls.
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But with the decision of creation of seven new districts in the landlocked state by bifurcating the existing ones and upgradation of Sadar Hills to a full-fledged district, the Ibobi Singh government has turned the tables on the BJP and seems to have killed three birds with one stone.
Besides partly dividing the hill tribals by upgrading Sadar Hills to a full-fledged district, the economic blockade by the United Naga Council has only helped the Congress consolidate the dominant Meitei (Manipuri) community by cashing on their anger with the three month-long blockade.
Thirdly, the Congress’s repeated allegations that the BJP was hand in gloves with the Nagas and the Centre not disclosing the details of the framework agreement with NSCN (IM) have also helped Congress sharpen its attack on the BJP that it (BJP) will compromise the territorial integrity of Manipur.
The BJP leadership in the state also agrees with the factors but is confident that the politics of “divide and rule” would not work this time.
“The Congress knew they would lose. That is why they took the decision of dividing the districts in order to flare up ethnic frenzy in the state,” a senior state BJP leader told PTI.
So strong has been the campaign about the BJP being a threat to Manipur’s territorial integrity that Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh at an election rally had said, “Canards are being spread against the BJP that if it comes to power, the territorial integrity of the state will be under threat as the central government has done a framework agreement with NSCN (IM).
“This is absolutely baseless… I want to reassure all of you here that the central government and BJP will never ever compromise the territorial integrity of Manipur.”
An indefinite economic blockade imposed by the United Naga Council (UNC) since November 1, 2016 is on in Manipur against the state government’s decision of creation of seven new districts in the state by bifurcating the existing ones and up gradation of Sadar Hills to a full-fledged district.
The state government, however, had claimed that the decision was taken to improve administrative efficiency.
A senior Congress leader questioned as to why the Centre was delaying banning the UNC when the ruling Congress at a legislative party meeting had passed a resolution in February to ban it and had written to the Centre in that regard.
Almost 65 per cent of Manipur’s population lives in Imphal Valley dominated by non-tribal Meiteis. Two tribal groups, Naga and Kuki-Zomi, account for the remaining 35 per cent of the population scattered across the hills that make up 90 per cent of the state’s geographical area.
The Valley has nearly 40 seats, whereas the hills have 20 seats in the 60-member state assembly.
In order to bag the magic number of 31, pocketing as many of these valley seats is crucial and it is here that the issue of economic blockade and politics over ethnicity comes into play.
The economic blockade issue has not only widened the divide between the hills and the plains, but also relegated all other issues like demonetisation, corruption, alleged fake encounters or anti-incumbency to the back benches.