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What to expect from 2012 Manipur assembly polls

Last updated on: January 20, 2012 13:21 IST

What to expect from 2012 Manipur assembly polls

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Chitra Ahanthem in Imphal

Nearly 279 candidates are pitted against each other to fill the 60-seat Manipur assembly in the backdrop of concerns about the smooth conduct of polling in the state. Manipur's journey to its 10th assembly elections is turning out to be a crowded exercise, says Chitra Ahanthem, our correspondent from Manipur.

While the ruling Congress-led government attempts to make it to a record third term, the party finds itself under attack from the Co-ordinating Committee (CorCom) of seven major underground groups -- Kangleipak Communist Party; Kanglei Yawol Kanba Lup; People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Progressive); Revolutionary People's Front; United National Liberation Front, and United Peoples' Party of Kangleipak -- which have imposed several restrictions on the party including banning the public from supporting it.

Several Congress election candidates along with party supporters have had their residences attacked or election related activities such as canvassing, political rallies and meetings, flag hoisting being heavily curtailed.

Recently, the CorCom sent out a list of all Congress party workers, warning them to disassociate themselves with the party, failing which even capital punishment would be considered.

The preparations:

Around 2,357 polling stations in the state have been announced, out of which only 160 are deemed normal and the rest as hyper-sensitive and sensitive spots. Three hundred and fifty companies (comprising approximately 3,500 personnel) of security personnel, including 280 companies of para-military forces are set to provide security cover during the elections.

The Thoubal district,t that includes the constituency in which the current Chief Minsiter Shri Ibobi is contesting, has the maximum of hyper-sensitive polling stations (227) followed by Ukhrul with 144.

Meanwhile, Imphal East district, with 105 normal polling stations seems to be set for peaceful elections along with 34 normal polling stations in Chandel and 21 in Imphal West while the remaining 6 districts have no normal polling stations.

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Image: A Paramilitary soldier stands guard beside a busy street in Manipur
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters

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The contenders

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Competing with the Congress is a coalition of five opposition parties: Manipur People's Party; the Rashtriya Janata Dal; the Nationalist Congress Party; the Janata Dal (United) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist while the Communist Party of India and the Trinamool Congress have decided to keep away from any pre-poll alliances.

The emergence of the Naga People's Front, a Nagaland-based political party, is a new factor that the parties in the State will have to contend with. The party, backed by the United Naga Council, a pro Naga based civil society group has proclaimed that it would strive to bring the 'Naga areas' under the same administrative roof with Nagaland, a line that is sensitive to the majority Meities and the Kukis.

While the Meiteis have held on to the present boundary of Manipur, the Kukis have also asked for the carving out of a separate district within Senapati area, which the Nagas demand for their own.

The ethnic political aspirations between the various groups have led to the spectacle of economic blockades on the highways of Manipur, which are under the Kuki-Naga stronghold areas leading to spiraling price rise and essential commodities going out of stock.

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Image: Nemcha Kipgen, first woman to contest election in Sadar Hills area
Photographs: Chitra Ahanthem
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The issues

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According to Paul Leo, the longest serving President of the UNC, "In the earlier assembly elections, the UNC had experimented with political backing of certain independent candidates but we felt this time that having a formalised party structure would be to our advantage. Numbers count when it comes to decision making."

Asked why the party was not contesting in all 60 assembly seats, Leo said that the party was a new experiment, "Hopefully, it will hold on."

The UNC-supported NPF is putting up 12 candidates for the election this time, all Nagas except for a Kuki candidate contesting in Churachandpur district. While the NPF would have to contend with other political parties for every seat they are contesting, Senapati district remains a battle-ground with Kuki candidates contesting on other regional and national party tickets being strong contenders.

The Congress which is seeking a third term, is however confident of getting the public verdict in its favor. Gaikhangnam, president of the Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee predicts that the party would be able to win about 40 seats.

"We have ushered in a strong government and built up a lot of infrastructure around the state," says Gaikhangham who is quick to add that 10 years have not been enough to bring in the kind of change the party wanted to.

Opposition parties are quick to discount the Congress' claims. Nimaichand Luwang, president of the Manipur People's Party says, "The Congress rule will only be known for the maximum number of people killed in the state both by state and non-state actors. It has given the people of Manipur economic blockades every year."

The MPP, which was the main opposition party, now finds itself on a sticky wicket after it was deserted by three current sitting members of Legislative Assembly who are contesting the elections this time on a Congress ticket.

The Bharatiya Janata Party which has only a negligible presence in the state also published a 'chargesheet' against the Congress-led Secular Progressive Front saying it was solely responsible for the lack of development in the state.

It cited the lack of drinking water, the three-hour electricity supply in the state out of every 24 hours and the lack of good roads as examples of public good being not given enough importance by the government.

In the earlier assembly elections, every political party had pledged to remove the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from the state. Ironically the Congress, which did not commit to repealing the act, won single majority.

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Image: Women at an anti-government protest
Photographs: Chitra Ahanthem

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Where are the women?

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Women voters outnumber men voters in the state. Out of a total electorate of 1,740,820 voters; 889,497 are women and 851,323 are men. Yet, the list of candidates has only 16 women, which is a slight increase from the number of women candidates for the last assembly elections (6).

Yet, the fate of women candidates in Manipur elections so far has been very marginal. The outgoing Assembly had just one woman MLA, Okram Landhoni, the wife of Manipur CM Shri O Ibobi. Landhoni's candidature came about only after her husband, the CM had contested and won in two assembly constitutions.

The Congress has put out only 4 women candidates this time while the main opposition part, the MPP has no women candidates. Both parties say that while they do try to encourage women to take the lead in the political sphere, the women themselves do not seem to be interested in contesting elections.

Women in Manipur are confined to being passive participants in the electoral processes. They lead rallies and door-to-door campaigns with some groups being warned by CorCom not to stay on a s security rings around Congress candidates and party workers.

Manipur's most recognised woman, Irom Sharmila who stays confined at a high security ward in Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital at Porompat in Imphal East for her indefinite fast against the imposition of the AFSPA, says politics has become a business for political leaders.

"There will be no change with the results of the upcoming elections till the time politicians give up the business of making money for themselves," said Sharmila as she was being taken for her fortnightly appearance at the courts.


Image: Manipuri vendors at a market in Imphal
Photographs: Reuters

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Photographs: Reuters
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