The outcome of the Manipur elections will likely have implications that may be unprecedented.
Manipur voters not only decided their lawmakers but also played a role in determining the future course of the Naga peace talks. Any solution to the vexed and pending political problem of the Naga could lead to a new era of peace and prosperity for the entire North East region, and even more so for the state of Manipur.
The National Socialist Nagaland Council (Isak-Muivah), or NSCN (IM), with its organizational presence within the Tangkhul Nagas tribe, has several pockets of influence in the hills of Manipur. NSCN (IM) General Secretary Thuingelang Muivah is a Tangkhul and has closely followed the polls in Manipur, especially the results in the Naga areas of the state.
The Congress candidate from Chingai seat, Sword Vashum, is the relative of a senior NSCN(IM) official. Of course, elections and so-called “militant involvement” are always a mixed bag. The NSCN (IM) openly favored the Naga Popular Front (NPF) in some constituencies, which won five seats. In some, even other parties or candidates.
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There are also other complexities. The predominantly Hindu Meitei population, which includes a sizable constituency in the valleys, has reason to be cautious about the Centre’s future move. Outgoing Chief Minister N Biren Singh has the ‘image’ of a leader who struggled to present the ‘Meitei perception’ on the Naga issue to Union Home Minister Amit Shah in 2019, who also helped the BJP.
Previously, this role of supporting the Meitei cause regarding the Naga demand for a “greater Nagaland” and the possible disintegration of Manipur state was with veteran Congressman Okram Ibobi Singh. Ibobi Singh contested this time, but his party’s lackadaisical poll handling and campaigning were not taken seriously by voters and ticket contenders.
This Congress has suffered immensely, and its tally has fallen to single digits, showing once again that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “dual engine” concept works best in states like Manipur. Ahead of the two-stage elections in Manipur, several voters and political analysts have said that perhaps what matters most to Manipur’s electorate is who governs in Delhi.
Congress’s vote share fell from 35.1% in 2017 to 16.8% in these elections, while its seats fell from 28 to just five. Meghalaya’s Chief Minister Conrad Sangma’s National Popular Front (NPF) became the second largest party in the assembly, with seven seats and 17.3 percent of the vote.
The BJP’s vote share has remained constant, rising slightly from 36.3% in 2017 to 37.8% now. Its seats fell from 21 in 2017 to 32 in a chamber of 60. It is to the credit of the BJP’s polling leadership that the party increased its vote share to this level by 2% in 2012.
In this, the role of Meitei voters was significant. For ages, the Meiteis have maintained social and cultural ties with Hindu tradition and culture. Meiteis make up more than half of Manipur’s population of nearly 29 lakh (2011 census). The majority are Hindus, but the community also has a small number of Muslims. Both oppose the “disintegration” of the state of Manipur.
Those in the know say the push for a quick solution to the Naga problem has been given in recent weeks by Nagaland’s Chief Minister, Neiphiu Rio. The BJP’s comfortable victory in Manipur, now that it no longer needs to depend on allies, such as the Naga Popular Front (NPF), should make it easier for its government to resist pressure from Naga lawmakers.
For decades, the work of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the field of education and social welfare also helps the BJP. But the BJP’s electoral success in 2017 and 2022 and its governance have less to do with Hindutva politics than with its welfare programs and delivery to the people.
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To cite an example, the School Fagathansi Mission is an initiative launched by the government led by Biren Singh to improve the education sector in the state, which covered 60 schools and increased enrollment in public schools by 25%. As the government tried to improve education, health and roads, the RSS and the 15 Sangh-inspired organizations have been active, especially in Imphal and Churachandpur, since the 1980s. Leaders like Jagdamba Mall spent more of three decades in the Nagaland-Manipur region.
In the health sector, under Health for All of the CM and Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY), 8.09 lakh beneficiaries had been enrolled and 1.1 lakh beneficiaries had received free treatment worth Rs Rs 123 crore until October 2021.
Of course, there is a problem with the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. The Chief Minister said: “The state government has never dismissed ST’s request for Meiteis.” The new government will have to deal with it.
Interior Line Permit Application
In December 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his approval for the introduction of Inner Line Permit (ILP) in Manipur. The Meitei community, and an overwhelming majority of women, had been very vocal, demanding the implementation of the ILP in the state. The Manipur Assembly, led by N Biren Singh, had also passed a Manipur People’s Protection Bill in 2018 that defines Manipuris and “non-Manipuris” and seeks to control the flow of “outsiders”. “.
Meanwhile, projects inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 4 in Imphal, the state capital, have contributed to pro-BJP sentiment. The projects included the famous steel bridge built over the Barak River and met the long-awaited demand of the people. This will ensure continuous year-round connectivity between Imphal and Silchar in the Cachar district of Assam. The road link to Imphal passes through Kohima in Nagaland, and commuters and truckers often face multiple challenges.
(Nirendra Dev is a Delhi-based journalist)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.
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