The Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United), the ruling party in Bihar, is a jolly camp these days. A steady influx of political leaders in its Manipur unit ahead of the crucial assembly elections this year has ushered in a sense of optimism in the party’s state unit and back home in Bihar. In the recent days, at least 20 prominent leaders from different political parties including the BJP and the Congress have joined the JD(U) in a boost ahead of polls. Assembly Elections for 60 seats of Manipur assembly will be held in two phases – February 27 and March 3, and counting of votes will be held on March 10.
Afaq Ahmad Khan, JD(U) general secretary and party in-charge of Manipur, tells Financial Express Online that around a dozen BJP leaders including present and former MLAs/ministers have joined the JD(U) and will be fielded in the elections on the party’s ticket.
“We have always kept our doors open for those who want to join us. Also, we have not set any conditions nor promised anything to those who joined us. However, around one dozen BJP leaders including present and former MLAs and ministers have joined us, 5-6 are from Congress, and a few are from NPF and MPP,” said Khan who has been camping in the northeastern state for the past two weeks.
Responding to a question of whether the influx of an array of leaders has given JD(U), which is not as popular as the BJP and the Congress in the state, a new lease of life, Khan says the party is already a familiar name in the Northeast. “We contested the Nagaland polls independently on 15 seats in 2018. We won one seat and were a close second on five seats while polling around 5.5 per cent votes. We also contested the Arunachal Pradesh polls independently on 15 seats and won seven of them and our voting percentage increased to over nine per cent. However, Manipur is a different case for us. Though we did not contest Manipur polls in 2017, our party leaders and state unit kept working on the ground.”
Khan also credited the party’s state unit president Hangkhanpao Taithul, a three-time MLA and minister, for having worked extensively in the state to prepare an atmosphere for the JD(U) to contest the 2022 polls. “We did a rally in Imphal in December and showed that we are serious about elections this time. We raised our voice against AFSPA, advertised in papers and campaigned against it, thus making an atmosphere in our favour. The BJP is in power here and they had multiple contenders at many seats and then there is factionalism as well, so many leaders joined us,” said Khan.
The JD(U) general secretary said that the party will ‘certainly gain’ from the joining of new leaders and it will ‘give strength to the party in the northeast’. He said that the party is confident of forming a government on its own this time and is not looking for any post-poll alliance at present.
“We are hopeful of winning many seats this time and will form a government. This will also send a positive message to the whole northeast….We are not thinking about the post-poll alliance at present. We are not looking towards the BJP, Congress, NPF or any other party at present. We are hopeful of forming a government on our own and will take any such decision only after the polls,” he said.
The JD(U) will have to better its fortune from the crushing defeats it suffered in the past polls in 2002, 2007 and 2012. The JD(U) managed to taste success in the Arunachal Pradesh polls in the 2019 polls when it emerged as the second-largest party winning seven seats riding on the victory of BJP defectors. However, it suffered a jolt when six of them later returned to the BJP. Once bitten, twice shy, the JD(U) is treading very cautiously, says Khan.
While the party had decided to contest only 20 seats initially, the influx of new leaders has allowed it to contest twice the initially expected target in Manipur. The party has fielded 37 candidates so far and said that many contenders are still vying for tickets. “However, we are proceeding cautiously. Given the politics of the northeast (incidences of defection to the ruling party), there are so many contradictions and we don’t know who is being operated from where. So, we are screening everything very minutely. Many leaders are aspiring for tickets on remaining seats and a decision will be taken after following a thorough process and taking a view of the local leaders,” said Khan, adding that Nitish Kumar’s clean image and party’s good governance in Bihar is aiding the popularity of the JD(U) in Manipur.