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Onus on Congress veteran Ibobi to stall BJP in Manipur

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Our Special Correspondent
IMPHAL, JANUARY 16: “I have killed a poem. Killed it unborn; To hell with it…”
These words from a Russian poem have some relevance to the socio -political journey of Manipur knocking at the doors for another round of Assembly elections.
Nothing much has changed for hundreds of people in the state of Manipur since statehood in 1972 and conduct of elections umpteen times.
Even today the same old issues such as abuse of the draconian Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), web of insurgency due to multiple insurgent groups owing to the presence of as many tribal and ethnic communities and developmental issues still haunt the State.
Yet a closer view suggests some of it is being addressed.
There are changes but some things do remain the same.
The inauguration of a steel bridge over River Barak was a long pending demand. Prime Minister Narendra Modi did the honour on January 4, 2022 just on the eve of election and drew favourable publicity. Whether this will generate votes remains to be seen.
This bridge has opened a new road for landlocked Manipur to reach Silchar in Assam.
So far, the only road one could reach Manipur was only via Nagaland capital Kohima and there were multiple hurdles.
Even during the Congress regimes previously it was experienced that a pressing issue like abuse of army never got reflected in electoral mandate. The AFSPA issue will be talked about and protested but when it came to elections people would vote after considering and deciding on various other yardsticks.
The use of money power is one. But still in Manipur that influence is not as much as in neighbouring Nagaland.
Another issue to decide election outcome in this Northeastern State is: which party is ruling in Delhi.
This always had a magnetic pull. “We are in a State which has a political legacy of sneezing every time Delhi gets cold”, a retired employee of state Power Corporation told this Journalist.
This phenomenon gave advantage to Congress for decades and now it will help the BJP.
Here comes the best example of Double Engine.
To be in power both in the State and in the Centre is certainly a major factor.
However, one man who can deny the BJP their golden opportunity is Congress veteran Okram Ibobi Singh.
A former Chief Minister, who ruled for 15 years, is still seen as someone who can be the “bulldog in the political circus”. But Congress may not name him the Chief Ministerial face, sources said.
Ibobi is 73 and has many detractors even within the rank and file of Congress. A number of senior leaders have left the grand old party and crossed over to the BJP and even parties like NPP, led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma.
Ibobi’s nephew Okram Henry has also joined the BJP. On January 9, Manipur Congress vice-president Chaltonlien Amo, Tipaimukh MLA, joined the BJP. Kakching Y Surchandra also changed sides.
The NPF, which draws its strength from Naga population, won 4 seats in 2017 and has set a target of 10.
The NPP, which too had won 4, may contest 15-20 seats.
“Contesting elections in the Northeast is also an expensive affair. The BJP is a resourceful party so the craze for Lotus party tickets. In the case of Congress, there is severe fund crunch. In Nagaland 2018 polls, Congress could not put up a candidate in all 60 seats due to paucity of funds”, says one Congress leader.
However, it is still not a one-sided affair and there would still be some anti-incumbency votes against the BJP.
For reasons not really explained effectively, the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee is not visible in action in Manipur.
But BJP’s problems would, however, start when tickets are issued.
There is bound to be dissensions and this will open floodgates of rebel independent candidates and some switching over sides and contesting either on NPP, NPF, Trinamool Congress or even parties such as the LJP.

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