It's 2.30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The high security convoy of Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh rolls into the sprawling Kanglatombi football ground for an election rally of the Congress candidate for Sekmai Assembly constituency. Sekmai, a scheduled caste reserved seat in the 60-member Manipur Assembly, is also known for its indigenous liquor, which is also called ‘Sekmai.'
As he alights from his official car, a luxurious BMW SUV, young women clad in the colourful traditional attire of Meitei, Kuki and Nepali communities welcome him. A posse of elite security guards equipped with automatic weapons surround him as makes way to the dais.
For the next half-hour before he is due to address the crowd, the Chief Minister is in conversation with his Cabinet colleague N. Biren, candidate from Sekmai Kh. Devendro Singh, Congress MP from Inner Manipur Lok Sabha constituency Th Meina Singh, on the dais.
Mr Ibobi, the star campaigner of the ruling party, who himself is seeking re-election from his Thoubal Assembly segment, has only two rallies on this day. First, he drives about 15 km on National Highway 39 after leaving his official residence in Imphal at 8.30 to address an election meeting at Liolong Assembly constituency in Thoubal district. After spending about 45 minutes there, Mr Ibobi is back home for lunch. After a quick bite, he heads towards the Kanglatombi rally venue.
Well before the Chief Minister's arrival, men and women of Sekmai constituency are streaming into the fortified meeting venue. They are let in after passing through a door frame metal detector and body frisking by security personnel on duty. High security measures are in place due to the “ban” imposed on the Congress by the CorCom (Co-ordination Committee), of seven armed rebel groups — the UNLF, the RPF, the KCP, the PREPAK, the PREPAK(Pro), the KYKL and the UPPK — from contesting the elections. CorCom has not only warned candidates and activists against any election-related activity but has also carried out a series of grenade and bomb attack to enforce it.
A section of Sekmai residents, however, are gathered on the opposite side of the highway where the Communist Party of India (CPI) candidate from the constituency Ayangbam Oken Singh is addressing an election meeting. The Congress and the CPI shared power for the past five years as partners in the Ibobi-led Secular Progressive Front (SPF) but decided to contest on their own this time. In 2007, the CPI won the Sekmai seat.
Mr Ibobi, in his 15-minute speech, keeping in mind the composition of voters in Sekmai constituency, harps on peace and harmony while appealing to the voters to give the Congress another chance.
“People of Kanglatombi, who belong to different communities, have been living in harmony for ages. Some people are trying to create a division by dubbing the Nepali community of this area as foreigners. The Congress party will, however, never allow such division to happen in Manipur and it firmly stands for unity of all sections irrespective of caste, creed, community or language,” he says.
Looking for a hat-trick
While the Congress is looking at a third consecutive term, this election is also an opportunity for Mr Ibobi also to do a hat-trick as Chief Minister. After his appeal to the voters to elect Congress candidates for a strong and stable government, Mr Ibobi signs off with a lighter comment on issuing of party tickets.
“As many as four candidates applied for ticket from this constituency. But it is not like cinema tickets that we can give a ticket to all of them,” says Mr Ibobi. The crowd listening to him and others in pin drop silence bursts out in laughter.
A group of Congress volunteers swings into action serving hot samosas to everyone present as soon as Mr Ibobi finishes his speech. He leaves the venue after lingering a few minutes on the dais, striding quickly to his BMW... and the convoy trundles on to the NH 39 taking him back to his official residence.