Will Congress be fourth time lucky in Manipur polls?

| Updated: Aug 23, 2017 11:20 IST

New Delhi [India], Jan.18 (ANI): India's northeastern state of Manipur is all set to go for assembly polls in March 2017. With a total of 60 Assembly seats, Manipur is considered a political bastion of the Congress, as it will be completing a third consecutive term under Ibobi Singh and will hope for a fourth consecutive term in office. Anti-incumbency factor The state might this time see an electoral battle fuelled by anti-incumbency, where the voters will surely analyse Singh's performance and take an informed decision to choose a government in this elections. The only alternative to the Congress are the regional parties in the state, most with a similar mindset of professing accountable liberty, labour and equal opportunity. But this time, the BJP is trying hard to put up an impressive performance in this elections. Less than one lakh voters in all 60 Assembly Constituencies Less than one lakh voters in each of the 60 assembly constituencies of Manipur will decide the fate of candidates in this year's polls. About 7,32,780 voters in the age group of 25-40 years will exercise their right to vote. Age and Sex-wise Composition of Electorate Age (18-25 years) Male (1, 55,247) Female (1,58,756) Others (0) Total (3,14,003) Age (25-40) Male (3,54,548) Female (3,78,232) Others (0) Total (732780) Age (40-60) Male (2,95,630) Female (3,03,333) Others (0) Total (5,98,963) Age: Greater than 60 Male (1,19,984) Female (1,28,013) Others (0) Total (2,47,997) Women voters outnumber males in all age groups Manipur became a Union Territory in 1956 and later, in 1972, a full-fledged state. It has two Lok Sabha constituencies and one seat in the Rajya Sabha. It has just two divisions and nine districts. Inner Manipur consists of 32 assembly seats and one parliamentary constituency. Outer Manipur has 28 assembly seats and one Lok Sabha constituency. Interestingly, the women voters outnumber males in all age groups in the state, which has around 18 lakh voters. The total population of the state is 27,21,756 lakhs as per the 2011 census. Manipur: a mosaic of rich culture and traditions A beautiful northeastern state of India, Manipur, boasts of a mosaic of rich culture and traditions. In the company of vibrant dances and music, the Manipuris find ample reasons in their fairs and festivals for celebration. In the field of arts and culture, the state is best represented by its classical and folk dance forms and also theatre. 2017 poll dates in Manipur The 2017 Manipur assembly polls will be conducted in two phases. The first phase involving 38 constituencies on March 4 and the second phase involving 22 constituencies on March 8. Before delving into the main contenders for the upcoming polls, we shall have a cursory glance as to what are the main problems of the state, as these issues are likely to remain the top agenda of every political party contesting for polls. Major Issues 1. Economic blockade Manipur primarily has three ethnicities - Meiteis, Nagas and Kukis. The Meiteis, who are dominantly Hindus, live in the Valley, while the other two mostly occupy the hills. There is often a triangular tension among these three main groups. The Valley consists of five districts Senapati, Tamenglong, Chandel, Ukhrul and Churachandpur. And in the plains, there are four districts Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur. The Nagas have been demanding to merge the lands inhabited by them with the state of Nagaland to form a Greater Nagalim and the Meities, the original habitants of Manipur, are vehemently opposing it. Currently, an economic blockade is causing severe hardships to the local residents. The prices of essential commodities have shot up. There also have been reports of sporadic violence taking place in the run-up to the polls. On December 14 last year, when the Chief Minister was to inaugurate the new Tengnoupal district, three commandos were killed and 11 injured in two ambushes. This was followed by an attack on a police post in Tamenglong district on December 17, 2016. 2. AFSPA One of the major electoral issues in Manipur has been the demand of repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act was signed into law in September 1958 and was later renamed the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). It authorises the Central Government and heads of states and Union Territories to declare the regions they govern to be "disturbed areas." The act gives armed forces extraordinary powers including immunity from legal action and the licence to shoot to kill and arrest people without obtaining warrants. The insurgent groups operating in the area are opposed to elections and would invariably give a call to boycott it as well. Irom Chanu Sharmila, a civil rights activist-turned politician of Manipur and known as the "Iron Lady" or "Mengoubi", had been fighting for repealing the AFSPA. She began a hunger strike on this issue on November 2, 2000, which ended on August 9, 2016, after 16 years of fasting. 3. Naga Accord The NDA Government signed a framework agreement on August 3, 2015, with the NSCN (IM) group. Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the agreement as "historic" and expressed his optimism that it would pave the way to permanent peace and prosperity in the state. Details of the agreement were not made public, but an impression was given that the NSCN (IM) had given up its demand for Greater Nagaland and that the government had agreed to give greater autonomy to Nagaland. Union Minister for Home Affairs (MOS) Kiren Rijiju said that the exact terms of the agreement would be finalised in about three months. Nearly 18 months have passed, but the final agreement is nowhere in sight. What is disturbing is that NSCN (IM) continues to violate the terms of the suspension of operations agreement with impunity. They even made an abortive attempt on the life of Ibobi Singh on October 24, 2016, when his helicopter landed at Ukhrul district headquarters. What is worse, Th. Muivah, NSCN (IM) general secretary, keeps harping on 'Naga sovereignty'. Main contenders for the polls The main contenders for the polls are the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Irom Sharmila-led People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA) and the Trinamool Congress. There are also two recognized state parties viz., Naga People's Front (NPF) and the People's Democratic Alliance (PDA) in Manipur. Congress The Congress has been in power for the last 15 years with Okram Ibobi Singh in chief ministerial role since 2002. However, the Congress might this year find it difficult to retain power due to anti- incumbency sentiments in the state coupled with the tough challenge that it would be facing from the BJP, which in the 2015 by-polls secured two seats from Thangmeiband and Thongju areas, both considered strongholds of the Congress. Apart from that, the recent decision of the Manipur Government to carve out seven more districts in the hill areas might become a major issue in the assembly polls as it saw intense backlash from the Naga tribes which led to the economic blockade of the National Highway. The fact is while the creation of seven districts by the Congress-led government pleased the Meiteis of Manipur, it upset the Nagas residing in the state who claimed this as an attempt to suppress their rights. In protest, they caused an economic blockade. The Nagas fear that bifurcation would result in encroachment of their ancestral lands. BJP The BJP, on the other hand, will be making the economic blockade and failure of the government to control the situation as the main electoral plank for the elections. The BJP has so far been accusing the Congress-led Government in Manipur while alleging that it has miserably failed to execute plans in larger public interest despite three terms in office. The BJP is also raising the issue of rampant corruption in government recruitments, irregular salaries, non-functional state machinery, farmland-grabbing in the name of development, drinking water issues and outsourcing of law and order to Village Defence Force (VDF). However, the sudden resignation of Khumukcham Joy Kishan from the BJP and re-joining the Congress Party has endangered the saffron party's prospects in poll-bound Manipur. He was considered as one of the BJP's prominent young faces and a probable chief ministerial candidate for the assembly polls. He was one of the three members of the BJP's election management committee that was established to formulate the party's strategy for the upcoming polls in the state. He also helped the party open its account in the state assembly in November 2015 along with Th. Biswajit. Joy Kishan joined the BJP in May 2015 after Biswajit, another fellow MLA from the All India Trinamool Congress. He was disqualified by the speaker along with O. Lukhoi under the tenth schedule. All three were elected for the first time to the assembly during the 2012 polls. Joy Kishan and Biswajit won their respective seats in the mid-term polls as BJP candidates. Irom Sharmila and the PRJA Activist Irom Sharmila, who ended her 16-year-long fast demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act on August 9 last year, formed the People's Resurgence and Justice Alliance ( PRJA). Sharmila may contest from two constituencies - Thoubal and Khurai. While Khurai is her home constituency, Thoubal is the constituency of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. She has blamed Ibobi's government for creating seven new districts without consulting all groups and for extending the AFSPA by another year. Sharmila's party has selected six candidates out of the 60 assembly seats. Brief history of Manipur Assembly elections Since 1963, 11 people have been elected as the chief minister, out of which five represented the Congress Party. Before Singh, Manipur was under President's Rule from June 2, 2002, till March 6, 2002. And before the President's rule, Radha Binod Koijam from the Samata Party was the chief minister from February 15, 2001 till June 1, 2001. Manipur Poll Date: March 4 and 8 (Two phases) Population in 2011: 0.26 Crore Assembly seats: 60 Party in power: Congress Chief Minister: Okram Idobi Singh Total number of voters - 18 Lakh Less than 1 Lakh voters in all 60 Assembly Constituencies Total population of the state - 27,21,756 lakhs (2011 census) Party-wise seats in assembly poll 2012 Party Seats Won Vote % Indian National Congress 42 42.42% All India Trinamool Congress 7 17.00% Lok Jan Shakti Party 1 0.55% Manipur State Congress Party 5 8.39% Naga Peoples Front 4 7.50% Nationalist Congress Party 1 7.23% (ANI)