The battle royal of the Assembly elections in Manipur, scheduled for Saturday, will be fought in the Thoubal constituency, where Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is locked in a three-cornered contest with Indira Oinam of the BJP and A. Manglemjao of the Trinamool Congress.
The two top contenders are Ibobi and Indira since Manglemjao, a retired teacher, is not seen as a serious candidate. Since 2002, he has been fighting elections unsuccessfully. When this correspondent visited his home last Wednesday, there was no worker, supporter nor election-related activity there.
In the last elections, Ibobi retained Thoubal and vacated the Khangabok constituency (he won both) to make room for his wife Landhoni Devi. During the last 10 years, he has looked after his constituency quite well, providing them government jobs, lucrative contract works and other favours. He is now banking on their gratitude to win Saturday's election. Manglemjao alleges that Ibobi has corrupted young minds with such temptations. According to the Trinamool candidate, all close associates and relatives of Ibobi get armed guards.
Ibobi, however, is not worried by the allegations. Not too long ago, Thoubal only had a village market with some wooden shops and tin-roofed sheds. This has been transformed into a modern shopping complex. Most of the roadside kiosks were replaced with two-storied constructions.
BJP candidate Indira Oinam says that the new shops were allotted to Ibobi's close associates. Women who should have been given outlets for their handloom, handicrafts and other products were denied space, she alleges. She also ridicules Ibobi's claim of having looked after the people of the constituency, saying there are people who have no roofs over their heads, no drinking water or toilets, even though Thoubal is just 40 km from the State capital.
The campaign against an “outsider” in this constituency seems to be gaining momentum. In Manipur's context it means a lot. N. Mangi of the CPI grew up in Imphal and won election as Imphal Municipal Council commissioner. But he could never win an Assembly election, and eventually he had to return to his home village in Bishnupur district to contest from there. Ibobi has not been able to convince his detractors why he should intrude into this constituency.
The situation is further complicated by the continuing violent campaign against the Congress candidates and workers carried out by the CorCom, the strike force of the seven banned underground organisations. Ibobi has appealed to his supporters not to stick their necks out by campaigning for him. Indira, meanwhile, is campaigning house to house along with her supporters. Visits by star campaigners like Hema Malini and Nitin Gadkari have been a shot in the arm for her. Over 10,000 women in the constituency have benefitted from the self-help groups and training centres run by her. These grateful women have stood by her.
According to the affidavits filed by them, Ibobi is contesting the elections with Rs 50,000 in hand, and Indira and Manglemjao with just Rs 10,000 each.