Valley and hills: On Manipur poll battle

The Bharatiya Janata Party is eyeing its second straight term in Manipur . In 2017, the party had finished second with 21 seats in the 60-strong Assembly, behind the 28 seats won by the Congress. Forming an alliance with the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Naga People’s Front (NPF) that had four MLAs each, one MLA each from the Trinamool Congress, the Lok Janshakti Party, an Independent and a Congress defector (who was Minister until his disqualification three years later), the party managed to cross the halfway mark. Defections continued, including from parties allied with the BJP. The BJP now has 30 MLAs while the Congress has 13 — but an MLA has now joined the Janata Dal (United), the BJP’s national ally. The party in power at the Centre manages to exercise undue influence in Manipur politics, and that trend could continue this time too. The BJP has no pre-poll alliance, while its principal rival, the Congress, has announced a tie-up with five smaller parties, including the Communist Party of India. Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh was himself once a Congress leader. A challenge to his continuance from within the BJP, if it were to form the government, is a likely scenario. Thongam Biswajit Singh, PWD Minister and an influential party functionary, could well be in contention. In neighbouring Assam, the BJP had replaced its Chief Minister after winning a second term last year.

In the broad geographical divide in the State, the Imphal Valley, where the Hindu, non-tribal Meitei community dominates, has an edge over the surrounding hills inhabited by the largely Christian Naga and Kuki-Zomi communities. The Valley has 40 seats and the hills, 20. The BJP and its ideological partner, the RSS, have tapped the Valley for decades now, but the party also has a foothold among Christians. In the event of a hung Assembly, the NPP and the NPF, both fighting alone in their respective strongholds, could emerge influential. The NPF’s role is limited to a part of the Naga-inhabited hills. The JD(U) is also in the fray again. The Congress hopes the defections would help it regenerate with fresh faces. The BJP wishes its focus on infrastructure, rural housing, water supply, electrification and other schemes would help it. The CM’s “go to hills” and “go to villages” programmes sought to bridge the psychological divide between the hills and the Valley. The demand for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act unites all sections of Manipur society. The demand for Scheduled Tribe status for the Meitei community, the enactment of the Manipur (Hill Areas) Autonomous District Councils Bill 2021 for providing more autonomy to the tribal councils, and the Hill Areas Committee comprising all the 20 MLAs of Manipur’s hills also will be talking points in the campaign.

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Printable version | May 13, 2022 6:22:31 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/valley-and-hills-the-hindu-editorial-on-2022-manipur-assembly-elections/article38341185.ece