While the attention of the country has been riveted to the political checkerboard in Uttar Pradesh that the BJP has trumped so overwhelmingly, along with a domint win in Uttaranchal as added bonus — the bitter electoral battle fought in Manipur was no less significant. For the first time in this frontier Northeast state, two tiol parties Congress and BJP were the major contestants and had been girding up loins for months. The BJP had its task cut out in taking on the Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress that had been in power for three consecutive terms. The saffron party had no grassroots base and presence worth the me in Manipur; in the 2012 assembly elections, it had contested in 19 seats and drawn a blank with a paltry 2.12 percent of the vote. But after storming to power at the Centre in 2014, the BJP leadership has been aggressively eyeing the Northeast to take out traditiol Congress bastions. After wresting Assam and getting a government installed in its me in Aruchal, the BJP was up against it in Manipur where Okram Ibobi Singh fought a wily, rearguard battle. In December last year, he split the existing nine Manipur districts to create seven additiol districts in a move seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between gas and Kukis in the hills, while at the same time dividing hill dwellers from the Meiteis domiting the valley. The gas saw this move as an attempt to cut into their traditiol homeland and there was much fury in ga-domited Ukhrul, Sepati, Tamenglong and Chandel districts; the Kukis were pleased at getting a separate revenue district of their own; the Meiteis feared that the hill areas were being handed over to the gas. When the United ga Council (UNC) imposed a crippling road blockade in galand against goods carried to Manipur to protest creation of the new districts, Ibobi Singh began a campaign against the ga peace pact that the Modi government signed with the NSCN(IM). To keep the staunchly Hindu Meiteis away from the BJP, the Congress alleged that the BJP tiol leadership was hand-in-gloves with the galim votaries to hive off parts of Manipur into a Greater galand. Reorganisation of Manipur’s districts, flaying the ‘vague’ ga pact, necessity of strict laws and inner line permit for protecting rights of indigenous people — all were potent cards that the Congress used in campaigning. And despite anti-incumbency and dissidence, the Congress ended up doing quite well by getting 28 seats this time, only three short of magic figure 31 in the 60-member assembly, while polling 35.1 percent of the vote.
The BJP may have come second in this race, but getting 36.3 percent of the vote while raising its tally to 21 from the two seats it had secured through by-elections to the previous assembly, is a considerable achievement. The party contested in all 60 seats, and its avoidance of a pre-poll alliance with the ga Peoples Front (NPF) was seen as a move to reassure the Meiteis. Central leaders from rendra Modi and Rajth Singh to BJP president Amit Shah all took pains to promise in Manipur that it will no longer be hostage to economic blockades, that its territorial integrity will be maintained, and that its development will be fast-tracked. Considering that the BJP secured seats both in the hills (total 20 seats) and the valley (total 40 seats), it seems to have succeeded in bridging the polarisation somewhat. The strategy of importing dissident leaders like N Biren Singh and striking alliances with smaller parties has paid handsome electoral dividends to the BJP in Manipur, as it did earlier in Assam. For land-locked Manipur vulnerable to blockades, the Modi government’s thrust to expand connectivity in the Northeast is also likely to have weighed upon voters. The high voter turnout of 86 percent in the two phases was therefore heartening for BJP poll magers, but the road to form a government will be bumpy. The BJP may have gone it alone in Manipur elections, ostensibly to reach out to the Meiteis and the Kukis — but on what terms and conditions it ropes in the NPF to form the next government in Manipur will be watched keenly. After all, the saffron party happens to be a constituent of the NPF government in galand. The NPF and tiolist Peoples Party (NPP) have secured four seats each while Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has one seat; all three are partners of North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) that the BJP has forged in this region to oust the Congress. These smaller parties and independents will all demand their pound of flesh to be in government, so there will surely be much wheeling and dealing in the coming days. Already the Congress has claimed the support of NPP, while the BJP is going whole hog in getting aboard not only NPP, NPF and LJP, but also supposedly an Independent, the lone Trimool MLA and a few breakaway Congress winners! But spare a thought for Irom Sharmila’s Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), which lost in the three seats it contested. Sharmila’s failure to convert her anti-AFSPA activism into votes, shows once again that politics is a different ball game altogether.