POLITICS

Why Neither Congress, Nor BJP Managed To Get Clear Majority In Manipur

A story of misguided expectations.

12/03/2017 9:22 AM IST | Updated 12/03/2017 11:33 AM IST
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Voters queue at a polling station in Thoubal on 8 March 2017 in Manipur.

Voters clearly had a difficult time choosing the right candidate in Manipur. On the one hand was a party whose long regime of three consecutive terms had spawned sleaze and misgovernance. On the other, was a party whose alleged secret pact with a militant outfit had given rise to all sorts of speculations about the territorial integrity of the state.

And in the end, the result was a fractured verdict with the Congress emerging as the single largest with 28 seats, BJP with 21, four each to the National People's Party and Naga People's Front. The rest of the seats were bagged by Trinamool Congress, Lok Janshakti Party and an independent.

Clearly, the BJP's promise of "development" and "clean government" does not seem to have convinced the majority of the voters to discard the Congress.

Likewise, chief minister O Ibobi Singh's supposed "master stroke" of creating seven new districts to rally the support of the majority Meitei community in Imphal Valley and the Kukis in the hills did not help to maintain the tally of 42 in the previous assembly polls. Manipur has a total of sixty seats in the assembly.

Many poll pundits were under the impression that it would be a complete rout for the Congress in the hill districts of the state which have twenty seats.

"The results were full of surprises. The voting pattern in the hills and the valley was quite unexpected," said Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of Imphal Free Press. "The campaigning in the last few days ahead of the polls made a lot of difference."

Many poll pundits were under the impression that it would be a complete rout for the Congress in the hill districts of the state which have twenty seats. Most of these constituencies are Naga dominated and the Congress came to be perceived by them as being pro-Meitei (the majority Hindus in the valley) and against giving too much concessions to any accord with the militant NSCN(IM). The Congress had hoped to win the polls on the basis of ethnic assertion and the majority communities' fear of an agreement between the Centre and the NSCN(IM). But the party won as many as eight seats in the hills while it lost many seats in the valley which were bagged by the BJP.

Among the factors that hindered the BJP was the "framework agreement" between the Centre and the NSCN(IM) two years ago which definitely alarmed a large chunk of voters in the valley. They were clearly not convinced with the repeated assurances by senior BJP leaders that the state's territorial integrity would not be tinkered with. Added to this was the ongoing economic blockade by an influential Naga organisation and the BJP was not seen as doing enough to put an end to the agitation.

Among the factors that hindered the BJP was the "framework agreement" between the Centre and the NSCN(IM) two years ago which definitely alarmed a large chunk of voters in the valley.

Although anti-incumbency had worked to some extent in favour of the BJP, it did not have enough winnable candidates as it had in Assam last year. There were allegations of nepotism in the distribution of tickets which also fuelled rumours that candidates were being selected on payment of hefty sums of money. Protests were registered by party workers when Premanta Sharma was given preference as a candidate from Patsoi instead of Sapam Kunja Kishore who was a veteran in the BJP for the past two decades.

These allegations from the BJP functionaries are also shared by some prominent members of the civil society organisations and academia. A retired professor who did not wish to be named claimed that, "Money had a big role to play in the elections with both the BJP and Congress trying to outdo each other. This was most apparent in one constituency where the competition was about paying more money and purchasing votes." He added that the BJP had a better chance of forming the government since it has a government at the Centre and definitely has greater resources than the Congress.

Congress needs three more seats to reach the magic figure of 31. NPP, NPF and Lok Janshakti Party which make up a total of nine seats are constituents of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre. This leaves the Congress to have an alliance only with the independent candidate and Trinamool Congress but it is still one seat less for the formation of the government.

The BJP, meanwhile, has begun negotiations in Imphal with the smaller parties for support. It would mean balancing diverse opinions, pulls and pressures since most of the Meitei legislators would not prefer to join hands with the NPF as it is identified as being close to the NSCN(IM).

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