By Barun Das Gupta
KOLKATA: The surprising element in the Manipur Assembly election outcome is not that the Congress has won for the third consecutive time because the Congress victory was a foregone conclusion, the surprise is that the Trinamool Congress, taking part in the elections for the first time, polled about eighteen per cent votes, won seven seats and emerged as the main opposition party. The five-party alliance led by the Manipur People’s Party (MPP) could win only one seat while the Naga People’s Front (NPF), a party of the Nagas in Manipur, won four. Others got six.
Days before the election results were out, senior TMC leaders in their party headquarters in Kolkata exuded confidence that they would win between seven and eleven seats. Party general secretary Mukul Roy said the Manipur results would come as a ‘big surprise’ for the Congress and others. The president of the TMC Chhatra Parishad, who had been overseeing the Manipur elections, stressed the fact that his party had put up candidates both in the plains and in the hills.
In fact, what happened was a decimation of all the other opposition parties. The 42-year old MPP which was the main opposition in the State was rejected by the people. The BJP fared no better. It contested nineteen seats, lost all. The CPI which was an ally of the Congress for the last ten years but went to battle alone, also drew blank. The NPF which set up a dozen candidates in the Naga-dominated areas had to be satisfied with four seats.
The main campaign line of the TMC was that it would fight for the scrapping of the hated Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA. During her one-day visit to Imphal for campaigning, party supremo Mamata Banerjee also lent her strong support for the abolition of this law. She also went to jail to meet Irom Sharmila who has been on a hunger strike for years on the scrap-AFSPA demand.
Sharmila has been in detention for many years, charged with ‘attempt to commit suicide’ under section 309 of the IPC. Evey year she is ‘released’ and as soon as she steps out of jail, she is re-arrested and sent back behind the bars again for another year. This farce has been going on for the last eleven years. The State Government is helpless because it is acting in the Sharmila case under directions of the Centre.
With the big win in Manipur, the responsibility now devolves on the TMC to take up the AFSPA issue vigorously in and outside Parliament. As the Centre is unwilling to repeal the law, not even to dilute the provisions of the Act which empower a member of the armed forces to kill anyone whom he suspects of being a terrorist and give him blanket immunity against prosecution, the AFSPA issue may further estrange the relationship between the Congress and the TMC.
Manipur has a lot of other problems also, like inter-ethnic conflicts between Nagas and Kukis. Last year this conflict took the form of a long economic blockade of the Sadar Hills Sub-division of the Senapati district. The majority Nagas want that the sub-division be made a separate district, while the minority Kukis are opposed to it. The result was a blockade and a counter-blockade that continued for months and caused immense hardship to the people. The blockade was withdrawn but the mental divide between the two tribes remains.
Insurgency is another problem. Several insurgent groups gave a call to the people not to vote for the Congress in the elections. The electorate totally ignored the call and voted the Congress to power in a big way. The insurgents are down but not out. By now the TMC is expected to have understood the complexities of the insurgency problem and learnt that in Manipur every political party has some connection or other with one insurgent outfit or another, or with one faction of it or another.
As the main Opposition party in Manipur and a constituent of the ruling UPA at the Centre, the TMC will have to face these problems. As a party which claims to be on the way to becoming a national party, the TMC will have to formulate its stand on all these issues. It has opened account in Arunachal and Manipur. If it wants to extend its organization to Assam and Nagaland as well, it will have to decide whether it supports the demand for a Greater Nagalim that includes the Naga-dominated areas of Manipur, Arunachal andAssam– a demand that the other States are dead opposed to.
Becoming a ‘national’ party demands taking consistent stands on conflicting issues that set one State against another or – as in Telangana and West Bengal– people of one region against those of another region in the same State. One cannot possibly support the demand for a separate Telangana and in the same breath oppose the demand for a separate Gorkhaland. TMC’s performance as the main Opposition in Manipur will be keenly watched by the people there. (IPA)