All sections, including Congress leaders in Manipur and Delhi, were virtually stumped by the unexpected landslide victory of the party in the Assembly elections in Manipur. The party won 42 seats in the 60-member House.
As the seven proscribed underground organisations had targeted 40 Congress candidates and their supporters in the four valley districts, there was no meaningful electioneering. And in the five hill districts, some tribal outfits had been after the 20 Congress candidates and their supporters. There had been over 200 bomb and gun attacks.
Not expecting the party to return to power, Congress national leaders did not even come to Manipur for the electioneering. Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh could not campaign in his own constituency, while Pradesh Congress Committee president G. Gaikhangam, who was seeking re-election from the Nungba constituency, could not vote on January 28 and the re-poll on February 4 fearing for his life.
The extremist organisations which continued to attack the Congressmen even after the elections warned other parties not to form a post-election alliance with the Congress. It was speculated that the Congress would not be able to form the government without outside support.
In view of these developments, 11 parties had formed the People's Democratic Alliance (PDA) to stake claim to the next Ministry. The Communist Party of India, which has been a ruling partner of the Congress for the last 10 years, wrongly read the straw signals. It snapped ties with the Congress to join hands with the PDA. The CPI leaders, including those party MLAs who had been defeated in the elections, have belatedly realised that they had taken a hasty step as the Congress will form the Ministry for the third consecutive term.
An upbeat Chief Minister admitted that many things could not be done during the last Ministry. The State faced a 3-month blockade during which petrol was sold at Rs. 250 a litre and essential commodities were not available. Even today, people gets power supply for just 2 hours a day.
Mr. Singh said that as per his calculations he expected the party to get between 30 and 35 seats. It was felt that in many circles that the Congress would not emerge as the single largest party.
People were angry that while they were floundering during the blockade, the Chief Minister and his family took pleasure trips to foreign countries.
It is because of the collective failure of the Opposition, however, that the people voted the Congress back to power. There is a feeling that the other parties had shirked their responsibilities. Besides, the leaders were known for their closeness to the Congress. Mr. Gaikhangam told The Hindu that at least 19 Opposition MLAs had applied for Congress ticket; two MLAs of the main Opposition, the Manipur Peoples' Party (MPP), got it. On the protracted blockade and many other burning issues, the Opposition had failed to make its presence felt. Mr. Gaikhangam had said in several public meetings that there was no Opposition party in Manipur.
These parties were conspicuous for their inaction inside and outside the House. Except for some innocuous and perfunctory questions, they did not pull up the government for its multiple failures.
Despite its urban influence, the MPP refrained from fielding any candidate in the Imphal Municipal Council elections. This led people to support the Congress despite its failures.
The last mistake the Opposition parties made was to form the PDA. Ten parties that had sworn by the territorial integrity of Manipur joined hands with the Naga People's Front, a Nagaland-based political party which is contesting Manipur's elections for the first time. The open political agenda of the NPF is to scissor off the “Naga areas” to bring them under the same administrative roof with Nagaland. Mr. Gaikhangam made a mockery of the strange political agenda of the Opposition parties.
All architects of the PDA have been defeated, including Radhabinod Koijam, NCP president and former Chief Minister; Nimaichand Luwang, MPP president; Okram Joy, an MLA and outspoken leader of MPP; T. Chaoba, a former Union Minister of State; CPI leader P. Parijat, who has been a Cabinet Minister in the last two terms; and N. Mangi, chairman of the Manipur Development Corporation.
From the ruling party, Bijoy Koijam, chairman of the Manipur Planning board; Mohammad Alimuddin and L. Jayentakumar, both Ministers, lost.
Indications are that Mr. Singh will become the Chief Minister for the third consecutive term.