Dilshad, a voter of Kshetrigao Assembly constituency, drives other people’s cars for a living. He has invested in a gym membership to increase his chances of getting a job in the Manipur Police.
He hopes a candidate from his community — indigenous Muslim, locally known as Pangal or Meitei Pangal — wins the seat to push his case. “It is difficult to get a job without any backing, especially for a Pangal,” he said.
The reality bites in 14 other constituencies where Pangals can swing votes but have the option of electing candidates from their community in five seats at most. Of the 16 Muslim candidates in the fray, four are Independents, while the Congress has fielded four and the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Janata Dal (United) three each.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded only one Pangal in Y. Antas Khan from the Lilong seat. It is understandable; non-Muslims hardly matter in Thoubal district’s Lilong subdivision where more than 75% of people are Muslims.
Comprising 8.32% of the State’s population — down from 8.8% in 2001 — the Pangals were relatively better off than Muslims elsewhere in India when Manipur attained statehood in 1972. The Chief Minister then was Mohammed Alimuddin and the community had seven MLAs during 1974-79.
It was never the same again for the community that began settling in 1597 and were entrusted with key administrative posts by the Meitei monarchs who adopted Hinduism.
“Despite major contributions for Manipur, the Pangals have often been stereotyped, discriminated against and considered as a huranba (thief) community. They have also been subjected to mob-lynching and prejudiced charges as drug dealers and petty criminals,” Mohammed Chingiz Khan, a Pangal scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, said.
Polarisation hit the Pangals hard in 1993 when about 130 members of the community were killed following rumours of alleged molestation of non-Muslim Manipuri college students.
“After 1993, the trust gap took almost 30 years to bridge, during which the Pangals fell behind by more than 50 years. We want to remove the wedge that the BJP’s communal politics has driven into Manipur’s social fabric again in the past few years,” Sheikh Noorul Hassan, State NPP general secretary and the party’s Kshetrigao candidate, said.
The Pangal areas are invariably underdeveloped, the residents lack basic amenities and do not have access to proper healthcare and higher education facilities, he said.
This has impacted the lives of the Hindus, too, in constituencies such as Kshetrigao, where 37% of the voters are Pangals. “The majority community thus wants a change,” Mr. Hassan said, indicating the BJP’s Nahakpam Indrajit, who is seeking re-election.
The change will happen when the BJP is made to bite the dust, Abdul Nasir, the JD(U) candidate from the Lilong seat, said. Mr. Nasir was the last Muslim Minister during the Congress reign up to 2017. He switched over to the JD(U) after the Congress denied him ticket.
“Congress has taken Muslims for granted and the BJP has no place for them. Pangals and other marginalised communities have suffered a lot but we believe we can make a difference,” Mr. Nasir told The Hindu.
The BJP alluded to its ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ credo to bust the “myth” about its disdain for Muslims. “It is mere propaganda that we do nothing for Muslims. This is the reason why our support among the community is increasing,” State BJP president A. Sharda Devi said.