By Ashis Biswas
As Manipur braces for the two-phase state Assembly polls, the possibility of sporadic political violence cannot be ruled out. State-based media reports summing up the pre-poll situation, have duly mentioned that most of the long term problems/social evils plaguing Manipur –widespread drug trafficking, the lingering effects of insurgency among a section of youths and an uncertain law and order situation – will hardly be addressed by major parties.
As the state administration gears up for the first round of polling on February 27, it is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) that sets the pace , while the main opposition party Congress appears subdued in comparison, as they begin their respective campaigns. The second phase of polling for the 60-seat assembly will take place on March 3. The outcome will be announced on March 10, along with the results to be declared for elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa.
Out of a population of 28,55,794, voters in Manipur, voters number 19,68,476. There are over a million female voters as against 9.5 lakh males. This contrasts sharply with the overall position in terms of gender representation among votes in the remaining four states. The total number of voters in all five states in 2022 Assembly polls is 18.34 crores including 8.55 females.
In the outgoing Assembly elected in 2017 the BJP had won 30 seats and formed the Government with the support of smaller parties like the NPP, NPF and an Independent. The Indian National Congress (INC) had bagged 13 seats and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) ,1. For some reasons, TMC leaders have not carried out a vigorous campaign in Manipur yet, in comparison with their recent drive for expansion in Tripura and to a lesser extent, in Goa or Meghalaya.
State Chief Minister Mr N. Biren Singh is hopeful of his party winning another term in power in the coming elections. Union Home Minister Mr Amit Shah has set the tone for a bold campaign, visiting Manipur several times in 2020 and 2021. Emphasizing the benefits of a ‘double engine government’ for progress, he called on the people to support the BJP both in Manipur as well as in Delhi. While major roads had been widened and improved in Manipur, frequent ambushes, disruptions, prolonged blockades and hartals etc had been effectively checked.
Referring specifically to the progress made in infra- structure building, education, the power sector and in law and order, Mr Shah said that earlier ruling parties in the state had compromised with and maintained links with insurgents and divisive forces.
Echoing him, state Chief Minister Mr Singh has reminded voters that the BJP which had won Manipur fo r the first time in 2017, had carried out more development in all spheres of activity than had been done during the previous 70 years. Free toilets had been built for people in the remote areas while there had been a marked increase in the number of people receiving fresh gas and power connections.
Manipur-based INC leaders and other opponents of the state Government counter such officials claims. They point to the high death toll for a comparatively smaller state like Manipur during the raging Covid 19 pandemic, the figure being 2022 as of now. Altogether 126580 people had tested covid positive, of whom over 120,000 had recovered.
Opposition parties aside, civil rights groups, too strongly reject official claims about an improved law and order situation. They have raised two broad questions: why the state is still officially being treated as a disturbed area, with the people suffering an erosion of their fundamental rights in some areas? Further, how is it that over 220 people have been arrested under the dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the relatively small state, as against over 350 for the much bigger Uttar Pradesh?
No wonder as the pandemic-afflicted pre-poll campaign warms up in the days ahead, such questions will be strongly debated in the state capital at Imphal and elsewhere. (IPA Service)