Congress up against an united Opposition and election ban by rebels, says Sushanta Talukdar

Manipur is poised for a tough and close poll battle. The ruling Congress party is hoping to make it to a third consecutive term. However, the opposition parties, not in a position to take on the Congress single-handedly, have teamed up in a bid to prevent a Congress win. Also, the Congress is facing a tough challenge posed by insurgent groups, which have clamped a “ban” on it and launched a series of grenade and bomb attack on its candidates, leaders and supporters.

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Five opposition parties — Manipur People's Party (MPP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Janata Dal (United) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have forged a pre-poll alliance called the People's Democratic Front (PDF). The MPP has also reached a seat understanding with the BJP in constituencies where its PDF partners do not have candidates.

The CPI, which was a coalition partner of the Congress, will contest on its own. The Trinamool Congress is also going it alone.

The Congress, looking at a third consecutive term, is the only party contesting all 60 seats. In 2007, the Congress emerged as the single largest party by winning 30 seats, one short of an absolute majority in the 60-member Legislative Assembly. It formed a Secular Progressive Front (SPF) coalition government with the Communist Party of India (CPI), which won four seats. The Congress later added one more to its tally in a by-election. Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh is looking to make history. In 2007, he became the first Chief Minister of the State to have completed a full five-year term and is stressing political stability as a significant achievement.

The entry of the Naga People's Front (NPF), the ruling party in neighbouring Nagaland, into electoral politics in Manipur has raised the political temperature. The party has fielded candidates in 12 constituencies that include 11 Naga-dominated seats in the hill districts of Senapati, Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Chandel. The NPF is counting on the support base of the United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body of Nagas in Manipur. In 2007 the UNC-backed candidates won six out of 11 Naga-dominated seats.

2007 elections

In the 2007 Assembly polls, the UNC's agenda of Naga integration made the issue of Manipur's territorial integrity an important one in popular perception. All the parties, including the Congress, made Manipur's territorial integrity a major poll plank. The 2007 verdict showed that the electorate in the valley saw the Congress as the only party that could take on the Naga outfit.

This time too, Manipur's territorial integrity has become a dominant issue with both the ruling Congress and the opposition parties pledging to protect the territorial integrity of the state. In a bid to pre-empt the Opposition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a visit to the State in December said that New Delhi was committed to the territorial integrity of Manipur.

Another issue is the crippling and recurring blockades of NH 39 and NH 53, the lifelines of Manipur. The Sadar Hills Districthood Demand Committee (SHDDC) imposed a blockade from the midnight of July 31, 2011, to press for its demand for a separate Sadar Hills district, carved out of Senapati district. The SHDDC lifted the blockade after 91 days following the signing of a memorandum with the Ibobi Singh government. Meanwhile, the UNC, which opposed the SHDDC's demand, called a counter-blockade on August 21, 2011. This continued for 100 days, until it was lifted ahead of the visit of Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi to Manipur on December 3, 2011. The two blockades choked the supply of essential commodities, and black marketers and hoarders had a field day. Petrol shot up to Rs. 200 a litre, potatoes to Rs.50 per kilo, LPG cylinders to Rs.2,000 and eggs to Rs. 10. The residual impact is still felt.

A third issue is the role of insurgent groups. The Congress is facing a violent campaign against it by seven insurgent groups. The Coordination Committee (CorCom) of seven insurgent outfits clamped a “ban” on the Congress party and is carrying out a series of violent attacks on Congress offices, houses of ruling party MLA and leaders, candidates, workers. The “ban” has hit electioneering by the Congress and its candidates, but how it impacts the outcome of the election remains to be seen.

In the hills, which account for 20 of the State's 60 seats, the Congress hopes to reap benefits from the development of hill areas. Last time, the Congress won six seats in the hill areas, including two Naga-dominated constituencies. The Ibobi Singh government also succeeded in holding elections to the Autonomous District Council (ADC) in the hill districts in 2010, after a gap of 20 years, ending governance by bureaucrats.

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StatewiseJanuary 21, 2012