‘CorCom’ ban has hit party's campaign in Manipur's valley districts, says Iboyaima Laithangbam

Till January 4, the ruling Congress party was sure of scoring a hat-trick in Manipur with 16 Opposition members applying for a Congress ticket. But that evening, the applecart was upset when 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 — banned the Congress from contesting the elections, warning candidates and activists against any election-related activity.

The CorCom said it had banned the Congress indefinitely for its “anti-people and anti-revolutionary policy.” Subsequently, the police foiled an attempt to blow up the Congress office with RDX explosive on January 8.

Despite the beefed up security, the extremists have been attacking Congress candidates and workers. The PREPAK, a member of the CorCom claimed responsibility for a bomb at the election office of K. Joykishan, a Trinamool Congress candidate, which left seven injured. Joykishan, a former member of PREPAK, had defied a PREPAK directive that its former members cannot contest the Indian elections and filed his nomination.

Chief Minister Okram Ibobi, the first leader to complete 10 years in office, is hoping to make it three in a row. His confidence did not seem misplaced as even Opposition MLAs were clamouring for the Congress tickets in the belief it would be returned to power. The situation has since changed with the CorCom ban on Congress electioneering.

Even Ibobi, his wife Landhoni, and others had to campaign in Thoubal district under very heavy security. He told The Hindu that in a democracy the people should be free to elect their representatives and called on the rebels should lift the ban on the Congress.

Asked about the almost complete invisibility of the party candidates, Ibobi said that this was because of the hawk-eyed EC watch on election spending. This was not a very convincing explanation since candidates of other parties are campaigning energetically, including home visits. In contrast, the terrified Congress workers are nowhere to be seen. In fact, some Congress candidates had to launch the election campaigns by hoisting flags atop their homes.

The CorCom attacks are limited to the four valley districts. It is yet to spread in the five hill districts dominated by the tribals. Four of them — Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul — have 12 candidates of the Naga People's Front (NPF), a Nagaland-based political party, which is contesting elections on the agenda of uniting the “Naga areas.”

All Naga groups in general, and the United Naga Council (UNC) in particular, support the NPF. The UNC has asked all political parties not to field candidates in these four districts. The election pattern in Churachandpur, the fifth district, is always along ethnic lines. In other words, the CorCom does not have to do anything in the hill districts to block the Congress.

In a bid to block the Congress from coming back to power, five opposition parties, the NCP, the JD(U), the CPI(M), the RJD and the Manipur People's Party (MPP) formed the People's Democratic Front. Its convener and MPP President Nimaichand Luwang confidently told The Hindu that the PDF would form the next government. He said that the MPP had a seat adjustment deal with the CPI and was confident of forming a post-election alliance with the Trinamool Congress.

PCC (Provincial Congress Committee) president Gaikhangam is however putting up a brave face, saying that bans before elections are nothing new. The party had faced such bans during the election of the Autonomous Distrct Council in the hill districts, he said, and expressed confidence the party would weather it. But with CorCom stepping up its attacks, this looks a dim hope. In fact, Gaikhangam stopped saying anything about CorCom after the January 8 bid to blow up the Congress office.

The government has promised to provide security to all the candidates after the withdrawal of the nomination papers (January 14).

However experience has shown that even 10 paramilitary troopers cannot provide fool-proof security to a candidate or MLA. The Congress faces an uphill battle in the valley as well the hills.

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