Higher stakes for Congress in second phase of Manipur polls 

Of the 22 seats in the final phase, there are 11 each in the valleys and the mostly Naga-dominated hills 

March 04, 2022 05:44 pm | Updated 07:39 pm IST - GUWAHATI

Officials check EVMs during Manipur Assembly polls. Photo used for representation purpose only. File

Officials check EVMs during Manipur Assembly polls. Photo used for representation purpose only. File | Photo Credit: AFP

The stakes for the Congress are higher than arch-rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the second and final phase of polling for 22 Assembly seats in Manipur on March 5.

The Imphal and Jiribam Valleys together have 11 of these seats. The hills around, mostly dominated by the Nagas, account for the remaining 11 constituencies.

The Congress had won 12 of these 22 seats in the 2017 polls — eight across Imphal valley and four in the Naga-majority hills. The BJP could muster three of the second phase seats five years ago, one of them in the Naga hills.

“The people have seen through the machinations of the BJP. If the election is free and fair, we have every chance of doing better than retaining our seats,” State Congress president Nameirakpam Loken Singh said.

The Congress has a few heavyweights in this phase, led by former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh contesting the Thoubal seat, and former State party president Gaikhangam (Nungba). But a couple of its MLAs in this phase are now BJP candidates while Md Abdul Nasir, the party’s most prominent Muslim face until recently, is the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) candidate from the Muslim-majority Lilong seat.

Muslims hold the key in at least five of the second phase valley seats, including the only one in Jiribam with a sizeable number of Bengali-speaking Muslims.

The BJP, too, is upbeat about doing much better in the phase 2 seats than in 2017. “The situation today is way different than what it was five years ago. Our development agenda has appealed to the people, a majority of whom have been benefited by our schemes,” State BJP president A. Sharda Devi said.

Apart from bagging most of the valley seats, the saffron party hopes to expand its footprint in the hills where Nagas call the shots in nine seats, while their population is almost the same as the Kuki-Zomi tribes in two seats (Chandel and Tengnoupal).

The BJP is contesting all the 11 seats in the hills, much to the annoyance of ally Naga People’s Front (NPF) that had won four seats in 2017. The NPF is confident of an improved show, banking on its “Naga connection” and its push for the resolution of the “Indo-Naga political issue” hanging fire since 1997.

The issue pertains to the peace process with the extremist National Socialist Council of Nagalim or NSCN (Isak-Muivah). Thuingaleng Muivah, the general secretary of the outfit, hails from Somdal village in Ukhrul district, the epicentre of Naga politics, but his homecoming has been stalled by the Manipur government for decades.

The NPF is not the only party challenging both the BJP and Congress. The National People’s Party, which had won two of the second phase seats in 2017, and the JD(U) are expected to put up a stiff fight in some seats.

Apart from Mr. Ibobi Singh, Mr. Gaikhangam and Mr. Nasir, the key candidates in the second phase include Yumnam Radheyshyam (BJP, Hiyanglam), Letpao Haokip (BJP, Tengnoupal), S.S. Olish (BJP, Chandel), Awangbow Newmai (NPF, Tamei) and Samuel Jendai Kamei (JD-U, Tamenglong).

Ms. Olish is one of two women among 92 candidates in the fray in the second phase. The other is the Communist Party of India’s (CPI) Y. Romita from the Kakching constituency.

Of the total candidates, 22 are of the BJP, 18 of Congress, 11 of NPP, ten each of JD(U) and NPF, three of Republican Party of India-Athawale, two each of Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party, one each of Rashtriya Janhit Sangharsh Party and CPI, and 12 independent candidates.

The fate of these second-phase candidates is in the hands of 8,47,400 electors — 4,18,401 males, 4,28,968 females and 31 transgender people.

Along with the 22 constituencies, re-polling will be held in 12 polling stations in five of the 38 Assembly seats that went to the polls in the first phase on February 28. The voting in these stations was affected by violence, vandalisation and destruction of electronic voting machines (EVM).

The turnout in the first phase was 88.63%.

The counting of votes will take place on March 10.

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