Manipur parties gear up for polls amid defections and security threat

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IMPHAL: The Election Commission (EC) on Saturday announced that Manipur will go to polls in two phases on February 27 and March 3.

The polls in the state are being conducted at a time when several major incidents of violence and terrorist activity have taken place. Chief election commissioner Sushil Chandra said that measures will be taken to ensure a peaceful election.

In November 13, an ambush by terror outfits on an Assam Rifles convoy in the Singhat sub-division of Manipur’s Churachandpur district claimed 7 lives including that of a commanding officer Coloney Viplab Tripathi, his wife, five-year-old son and four others. Last month, a BJP MLA’s brother was arrested for killing a college student and on January 5, an Assam Rifles jawan was killed and another injured in a bomb blast in Thoubal district.

Political parties in Manipur, mainly ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its coalition partner National People’s Party (NPP) have already started their campaigns to face voters again.

In 2017, the Congress had emerged as the single largest party in the state by winning 28 seats out of the total 60 seats, while the BJP won 21 seats. The BJP was able to form the government with support of four National People’s Party (NPP) MLAs, four Naga People’s Front (NPF) MLAs and one MLA each from Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and an Independent.

Besides failing to form the government despite being the single largest party, the Congress started losing ground in Manipur from the start with MLAs switching sides to the BJP or resigning from their seats. At present, the party is down to 15 legislators. On the other hand, the ruling BJP’s strength in the assembly has gone up to 26.

Congress MLAs started to join the BJP in August 2020 after five Congress legislators joined the saffron party. It was followed by the former state Congress unit chief Govindas Konthoujam joining the BJP on August 1 this year. Thus, so far eight MLAs who were elected on the Congress ticket have joined the BJP.

For the upcoming polls, the BJP, which is heading a coalition government, is targeting “40 plus” seats in the 60-member assembly. The party state unit president A Sharda Devi said despite facing many problems including the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the BJP government has implemented many development activities apart from building trust and understanding among different communities.

“We’ve seen the seriousness of the government in resolving people’s issues without delay,” she said recently. “As a result, the state has been witnessing no bandh and blockades. We’re also indebted to chief minister N Biren Singhji for implementing the much-demanded ILP (inner Line permit) system in the state,” Devi added.

Manipur is the fourth state in Northeast after Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Mizoram where the ILP regime is applicable. In states that come under the ILP regime, outsiders including people from other states of the country need to take prior permission to visit them.

BJP national president JP Nadda and union minister of forest, environment & climate change Bhupender Yadav, who is the party’s election in-charge for Manipur, visited the poll-bound state and addressed several gatherings.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 13 projects worth around 1,858 crore and laid the foundation stones for 9 other projects worth around 2,957 crore in Manipur and kicked off the BJP election campaign on January 4.

The BJP’s main coalition partner NPP also started poll preparation by holding different party meetings after its national president Conard K Sangma, who is also the chief minister of Meghalaya, kicked off party’s poll campaign by attending a youth conclave of the party last month.

NPP national vice president Y Joykumar, who is the deputy chief minister in the present government, said last month that the party is targeting to become the single largest party in 2022 polls by winning a minimum of 20 seats.

“So, we’ve both options to go either with Congress or BJP after the polls in forming the next government,” he added indicating that the party isn’t decided yet on continuing its association with the saffron party this time as well.

Another ruling partner, Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF), which has 4 legislators in the house of 60, is planning to field more than a dozen candidates in the upcoming assembly elections, a party source told HT.

The opposition Congress, which is likely to have a pre-poll alliance with like-minded political parties for the upcoming elections, is also slowly picking the pieces by launching its poll campaigns. But there’s no clarity yet on how many seats the party will contest and who will be heading the campaign.

Targeting the BJP in one meeting in his home constituency (Nambol) last month, state congress chief N Loken had termed the BJP-led government in Manipur as nothing but an “advertisement” government. “They’re only limited to words and promises,” he accused.

The office of the chief electoral officer (CEO) Manipur on Wednesday published the final electoral roll 2022 for the assembly elections that included 20,34,966 voters. Of the total voters, 10,49,639 are women while 9,85,119 are men and 208 are third gender. The state will have a total of 2959 polling stations.

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