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This article was first published 7 years ago  » News » BJP to deny Ibobi another term in Manipur

BJP to deny Ibobi another term in Manipur

By Chitra Ahanthem
Last updated on: March 13, 2017 15:13 IST
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The BJP cobbles up the numbers to stake a claim to form a government in Imphal.
But ruling the restive state won't be easy, says Chitra Ahanthem.

Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh


The results of the assembly election in Manipur could have passed off as any nail-biting thriller complete with twists and turns at every corner.

For one, even as assorted exit polls gave the Bharatiya Janata Party the edge in the state and initial results showed the party on a swing, it was soon clear that the party's numbers would be short of a majority.

The prediction of a saffron surge and a Modi sway over voters by major national media outlets was never a consideration for analysts on the ground who had pegged the party with a maximum cap of 15 seats.

The BJP's final tally of 21 wins in Manipur lies in closely contested fights with the Congress and the latter getting thumped in a few constituencies where the sitting MLAs had a reputation of being too arrogant, not delivering enough in terms of working for its people.

The BJP's ruse that had earlier worked in Assam, that of weaning Congress MLAs and ministers led to some comic fallouts with Y Irabot, a former Congress heavyweight who joined the BJP (and who lost to Chief Minister Okram Ibobi's nephew contesting on a Congress ticket) having to clarify to his supporters that he did not vote for the Congress candidate (mistaking himself to be the party’s candidate!).

To many asking whether the BJP's rise in Manipur coming from no wins in the last assembly elections to 21 this time is due to Modi and if it means an anti-incumbency Congress downslide, it is a 'no' to the former and a 'yes' to the latter.

Modi's Hindutva leanings are at total odds with the Manipur valley where there is a strong revival of pre-Hindu socioreligious norms, practices and beliefs.

A recent official notification from Manipur Governor Najma Heptullah's office announcing that the indigenous Manipuri New Year's Day will be a working day already has social media in a tizzy with a majority accusing the BJP of trying to whitewash Manipur's synthesis with Hinduism in a total Hindutva fervour.

Anti-AFSPA crusader Irom Sharmila's party, the Peoples Resurgence & Justice Alliance, fielded 3 candidates, but could not muster a single win.

Irom Sharmila, who was earlier scheduled to contest in her home constituency of Khurai along with Thoubal to battle it out with Okram Ibobi, dropped Khurai.

Her ballot count in Thoubal read 90 votes with voters giving 143 nods to NOTA.

Many have been quick to question how the people of Manipur could have not voted for an icon like Irom Sharmila, forgetting that she was contesting only in the assembly constituency of Thoubal where she was taking on Okram Ibobi's might.

When Sharmila began her journey in politics, she said she wanted to challenge the might of Okram Ibobi whose tenure as chief minister coincided with her nearly 16 year-long fast.

Post the election results, Sharmila has now decided to leave politics and not contest an election again.

The final tally of the 60 Manipur assembly seats stands thus: Congress: 28; BJP: 21; National People's Party: 4; Naga People's Front: 4; Trinamool Congress: 1; Lok Janshakti Party: 1; Independent: 1.

The latest developments coming in from Manipur is that the BJP has staked its claim to form the government with a new mathematical equation: BJP (21) + NPP (4) + NPF (4) + LJP (1) + 1 Congress MLA bringing the tally to 31, the required figure.

The defection of Th Shyamkumar, the Congress MLA from Andro constituency, means he will get disqualified from the party and he will face elections again either immediately if he is so inclined or within the next 6 months.

But the tally of 31 seats has not necessarily satisfied the BJP leadership as evident from Assam Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma's assertion that 12 more Congress MLAs will join the party, a move that is seen as a way of getting the numbers (18) to beat the anti-defection move.

Where does that leave the Congress or rather, what remains of the Congress?

If it can get around to holding onto its ship, all it has to do is take on an active role as an Opposition party and wait for the new BJP government to implode: Internally with all the wranglings for ministerial posts and externally, from the public outpourings over the current developments.

Given a situation where the BJP gets the alliance up and running, there will be a rough patch in the Manipur socio-political landscape with people out on the streets if the BJP-led government rolls back the new district formation that Okram Ibobi had earlier brought in or if the terms of the Naga peace agreement ignites passions in the valley that holds the 'territorial integrity of Manipur' as sacrosanct.

For now, the Manipuri public will be caught in the festivities of Holi or Yaoshang as it is known in Manipur and which is celebrated for five days, which in effect means a shutdown of most business establishments and even media houses.

This shutdown is partly due to the nature of the festivities where young people seek donations to organise festival-related revelries.

Starting from March 12, there will be feasts, entertainment programmes and community-level sports competitions with victorious MLAs being asked to pay huge sums of money for their supporters to organise Shumaang Leela, Manipur's traditional courtyard drama, and Thabal Chongb, literally meaning dance under the moonlight as it is held in an open ground where a band party plays traditional drum beats to the accompaniment of other musical instruments, with young girls and boys holding hands in a huge circle under the watchful eyes of their elders.

The irony for Manipur now is that for the Yaoshang duration, it will be all fun and revelry and with no media coverage on the political drama, only a few will be clued in regarding which way the political wind is blowing.

Once the festivities end, there will be some very difficult times ahead for both the politicians in power and for the citizens of Manipur.

Neighbouring Assam where the lotus is in bloom has seen a Hindutva tilt with the announcement that Sanskrit will be now compulsory in all educational institutions till Class 8.

A similar move in Manipur will be disastrous considering the long political agitations that rocked the state in an attempt to get the Manipuri language in the 8th Schedule.

All said and done, Manipur will likely see a very unstable government -- if the BJP has its hands tied with too many allies and its own MLAs seeking ministerial berths.

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Chitra Ahanthem