A flag-hoisting ceremony once associated with the royalty has become intrinsic to campaigning in poll-bound Manipur.
Shiekh Noorul Hassan had begun working among the people of the Khetrigao Assembly constituency in 2017. It appeared to have paid off when hundreds of people turned up at his residence by the Iril River for the firal chingkhatpa or flag-hoisting ceremony on Sunday.
It is a solemn segment of athenpot thinba, a gift presentation tradition that began centuries ago. This required the primarily agrarian people of Imphal Valley and the surrounding hills to gift a fair share of their farm produce to the kings as a token of respect.
Scores of women trooped onto the compound of Mr. Hassan’s house at Khsetri Top Khongnang Makhong to place fruits, vegetables, sweets, rice and flowers in bamboo baskets or on steel plates at the base of the pole that sported the flag of the National People’s Party (NPP).
Mr. Hassan is the NPP’s candidate from Khetrigao. The flag was hoisted by party president and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma, who attended the ceremony for five other NPP candidates during the day.
“The people have shown their support. It is an auspicious sign for the election on February 28,” Mr. Hassan, an indigenous Muslim belonging to the Meitei Pangal community said.
Nahakpam Indrajit Singh, his Bharatiya Janata Party rival seeking to retain the constituency, is no less confident, claiming an impressive turnout for his firal chingkhatpa on Saturday. Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh attended the ceremony.
“The turnout at a flag-hoisting ceremony ahead of polling becomes a subject of discussion. There is a tendency to compare the number of people the candidates attract for predicting the outcome,” Chingiz Khan, a history scholar said.
The ceremony is also an opportunity for the candidates to interact with the voters.
Others do not rule out the possibility of some candidates ‘buying’ the numbers. But they agree the ceremony cuts across religions, though it is more ritualistic among the Meiteis who adhere to Vaishnavism and Sanamahi faith and dominate 40 constituencies across the Imphal and Jiribam Valleys.
The gifts that voters leave behind are distributed among party workers, supporters and people in need.