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Fractured verdict in Manipur conveys confusion
Rahul Karmakar | Tuesday, 14 March 2017 AT 10:11 PM IST
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Mandate 2017 in Manipur lived up to the expectations of being a two-party contest - between the Congress that has been ruling the frontier state since 2002 and challenger Bharatiya Janata Party. But the fractured verdict was largely unexpected.

Apart from the 2002 election, when it faced relatively potent regional parties, the Congress virtually had no challengers for the next two elections. This time, it ran into a resourceful BJP, which had fielded only 19 candidates - all lost, most of them with security deposit - in the 2012 election.

Manipur has a maximum 60 assembly seats. Of the 55 that were declared by 5:20 pm established Congress as the single largest party with 24 seats with BJP closely behind with 20 seats. The majority mark in the assembly is 31.

The BJP, keen on expanding its footprint in the eight-state Northeast, had applied its Assam formula - importing MLAs and senior leaders from Congress - to Manipur. It managed to rope in six MLAs, but the result was not as desired with the Congress shaking itself out of complacency.

The BJP had attacked the Congress and Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh for rampant corruption and lack of development, promising to change Manipur if they came to power. It also worked on the perennial psychological divide in Manipur between the non-tribal Meiteis inhabiting the Imphal Valley and the tribal Nagas living in the surrounding hills. The Valley has 40 seats, and whipping up anti-Naga sentiments - because of periodic economic blockades allegedly backed by the militant National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) that wants to create a separate homeland comprising the hills of Manipur - has reaped dividends for the Congress in the past.

Both Congress and BJP had tried to put the blame for the current blockade since November 30 last year on each other. But neither seems to have made the most of it.

Political analysts in state capital Imphal said there could be two scenarios now. Governor Najma Heptullah could invite the Congress as the single largest party and ask it to prove majority. The small parties and independents then come into play.
But the regional parties that have done better - National People’s Party and Naga People’s Front with four seats each - are constituents of the BJP-helmed North East Democratic Alliance whose agenda is a Congress-free Northeast. There is also Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party, an ally of the BJP at the Centre, with one seat.

Whichever way it pans out, the 2017 election would be known for the first and last election of rights activist Irom Sharmila, who contested the Thoubal seat against Chief Minister Ibobi Singh. She won 90 votes, 53 less than what NOTA garnered, making her emotional enough to decide to leave politics for good.

Another casualty was former union minister Thounaojam Chaoba, who could have been BJP’s chief ministerial candidate. He lost the Nambol seat to his nearest Congress rival by 280 votes.

If Congress eventually manages to form the government, it will establish Ibobi Singh as the party’s tallest leader of the Northeast. If BJP gets a shot, it will strengthen the party’s agenda of wiping out Congress in the region after taking Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
 
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