By Sagarneel Sinha
Along with the elections of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Punjab, elections would be held in the north-eastern state of Manipur. The elections would be held in two phases — February 27 and March 3. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been aiming to return to power for the second time while the main opposition Congress is desperate to wrest its ex-citadel. The battle isn’t limited to only BJP vs Congress as there are other regional parties — National People’s Party (NPP) and Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) — in the fray making it a multi-corner contest.
During the last assembly elections held in 2017, although Congress emerged as the single largest party by winning 28 seats out of 60, it was the BJP that formed the government despite getting 21. Not only Congress but also many commentators had then sharply criticised the saffron party for going “against the people’s mandate” and “forming the government through the backdoor.” Those charges weren’t exactly true. In a democracy, whenever there is a hung assembly, the party that garners the required majority mark through a post-poll alliance forms the government. Last time, the saffron party formed the government as it garnered the required numbers by allying with NPP, NPF and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which were (still are) part of the BJP led NDA. Another factor that helped the BJP was that it was the ruling party at the Centre.
Coming to the present scenario, the factors that favoured the BJP back in 2017 in government formation still do exist — the ruling party at the Centre and regional parties like NPP and NPF still are part of NDA. In the north-east, the party which rules at the Centre generally gets support from the region — earlier it was the Congress and now it is the BJP. That’s the reason that BJP has become the main destination for the defecting politicians in the election season. This can adversely affect the saffron party too. There are at least four to five candidates hoping for saffron party tickets in an assembly constituency.
Naturally, all wouldn’t get the tickets and some are likely to rebel against the saffron party. In a small state like Manipur where victory margins are decided by even less than 1000 votes, such rebels can harm the prospects of the party. It depends on the ability of the saffron party to handle all ticket aspirants. Apart from this, the BJP faces internal dissension with various leaders not happy with chief minister Biren Singh’s style of working. Even the allies like NPP and NPF didn’t get along with Biren Singh. However, there are other factors that are likely to help the saffron party in Manipur — the reduction of the gap between the state and the Centre under BJP’s “double engine” rule, the focus to bring the government to the hills under BJP rule, the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP), a long demand of the Meithei Manipuris of the plains, by the Narendra Modi government etc.
On the other hand, the Congress party, currently hit by desertions of prominent leaders and legislators, has weakened considerably. The prominent face of the party is still the former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who ruled the state from 2002 to 2017. The veteran leader hasn’t been much active in state politics. Although the grand old party has weakened, it is still in the race. The Congress party, particularly, is aiming to do well in the plains, which has 40 seats.
The recent C-Voter survey has predicted a tight fight between the BJP and the Congress where both the parties are likely to fall short of the majority. The survey has predicted that BJP is likely to remain slightly ahead of Congress. Importantly in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP was ahead in 26 while the Congress in 20 assembly seats. If there is a hung assembly like in 2017, the parties like NPP and NPF will have a major role to decide the government. The NPP of Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma had won 4 seats and was in the BJP government led by chief minister N. Biren Singh. Its leader Y. Joykumar Singh was the deputy chief minister. This time it is likely to contest on 30 seats alone.
The Nagaland based NPF, which had grabbed 4 seats, is aiming to increase its seats in the hills, which are mainly dominated by the Nagas and the Kukis. The hills have 20 seats. During the 2019 elections, NPF for the first time won a Lok Sabha seat from the state and was ahead in 11 assembly seats. There are also other NDA constituents like the union minister Pashupati Paras led LJP and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar led Janata Dal (United) in the fray. Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party is likely to contest in alliance with Congress. The north-eastern state, undoubtedly, is going to witness a tight multi-corner contest with BJP and Congress locking horns with the saffron party having a slight advantage. (IPA Service)