Manipur Assembly polls | BJP bid to breach strongest Congress bastion 

Earlier defeats have not dimmed Leitanthem Basanta’s hopes of being a giant-killer in ex-CM Okram Ibobi’s backyard 

March 03, 2022 06:33 pm | Updated September 22, 2022 03:38 pm IST - IMPHAL

BJP’s Leitanthem Basanta is contesting the Thoubal seat against Congress’ Okram Ibobi. File

BJP’s Leitanthem Basanta is contesting the Thoubal seat against Congress’ Okram Ibobi. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Leitanthem Basanta’s father, Leitanthem Tomba had kept the Congress at bay in Thoubal — first as the MLA of the Manipur People’s Party in 1995 and then from the Federal Party of Manipur in 2002 — until he met more than his match in former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh in 2007.

As the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate from the Thoubal Assembly constituency this time, Mr. Basanta’s mission is more than just “avenging” his father’s defeat. He hopes to be the giant-killer by getting the better of Mr. Singh in, arguably, the strongest Congress bastion in the State and to set the ball rolling for a “Congress-free Manipur”.

However, this is not the first time Mr. Basanta is contesting the Thoubal seat against the ex-CM. He had lost the seat by a margin of 10,452 votes in 2017.

But he prefers to look at the brighter side. His margin of defeat was less than that of his father’s (11,077) and of Oinam Indira (15,453), the BJP candidate against Mr. Singh in 2012.

“The Congress’ magic in Thoubal is waning. The people here have realised the Congress has only helped the family members of its representative develop, not the constituency,” Mr. Basanta told The Hindu.

He referred to the adjoining Khangabok seat that Mr. Singh had won thrice from 1984 but vacated it for his wife Landhoni Devi in 2002. She retained the seat in 2007 before her son Okram Surajkumar took over in 2017. He is seeking re-election from Khangabok.

“The situation is totally different from the last three elections (that Mr. Singh won). The journey of the Congress to obscurity may begin from Thoubal,” Mr. Basanta said.

Congress supporters in Thoubal, whose nerve centre is about 25 km southeast of State capital Imphal on the road to Myanmar border town Moreh, said defeating the 73-year-old former CM would remain a pipedream for the BJP.

“Despite using muscle and money power, the BJP will not be able to form the government. We will be back,” Congress leader Ningombam Bupenda Meitei said.

Confident of retaining his seat for the fourth straight time, Mr Singh said the Congress will emerge as the single-largest party again and could even touch the majority mark of 31 in the 60-member House. In the case of a hung Assembly, the party would be in a better position than the BJP to work out an alliance, he felt.

“The multi-cornered election will also work to our advantage,” the former CM said.

Apart from the BJP’s Mr. Basanta, the challengers for Mr. Singh in Thoubal are Irom Chaoba Singh of Janata Dal (United) and Konsam Michael Singh of Shiv Sena.

In Khangabok, Mr. Surajkumar’s rivals are Khundrakpam Menjor Mangang of the BJP and Thokchom Jadumani Singh of JD(U).

Thoubal and Khangabok are among the 22 seats going to the polls in the second and final phase on March 5. The first phase polls for 38 seats were held on February 28.

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