Manipur in the North East will go to the polls in two phases on February 27 and March 3. Elections in Naga, other tribal-dominated areas of Ukhrul and neighbouring districts have generated extra interest and excitement following certain developments in neighbouring Nagaland.
These hilly regions will go for voting on March 3. A sizable Naga population inhabits the Ukhrul district, especially Tangkhuls, whose community leader Thuingaleng Muivah is the powerful NSCN (IM) General Secretary and has been negotiating peace talks with the Centre for the last few years now.
Nagaland-based outfit Naga People's Front, which won four seats in 2017, is an ally of the BJP. Of the total 60 assembly segments, 20 are in the hill districts. The valley is a stronghold of the Meitei population. However, the saffron party has announced that it will contest all 60 seats and set a target of 40 seats. Besides NPF, NPP, led by Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, is another ally of the BJP in the outgoing Assembly.
APPROACHABLE CHIEF MINISTER
Chief Minister N Biren Singh's popularity and 'good performance' despite challenges in the last five years give BJP a major advantage in this year's polls. N Biren Singh, who joined BJP in 2016, has earned the reputation of being an accessible Chief Minister. In contrast, former Congress chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh is generally seen as an arrogant and inaccessible leader.
Chief Minister's outreach programmes 'Go to Hills' and 'Go to Village' have been widely accepted and appreciated by the people in this development-starved State. N Biren Singh also has an image of a 'protector' of Meitei interests, giving him a big advantage in the Valley. The Prime Minister's concept of 'Double Engine' is displayed in its best form in this State.
Of course, this used to be the Congress advantage factor for decades, and now that pattern is definitely going to boost the BJP campaign. The decline in the long bandhs and blockades will also favour the BJP.
In Chief Minister's constituency Heingang, people also appreciate that BJP took a major move to appoint a woman as the State-unit President in Sharda Devi. This is the first time a woman is heading a national party in the State.
MODI’S CHARISMA WILL BENEFIT BJP
Of course, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charisma will always benefit the BJP. Among the projects inaugurated and launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on January 4 in Imphal is the landmark Steel Bridge built over Barak River. The project will fulfil the long-awaited demands of the people, and henceforth the traffic congestion along the National Highway-37 will be reduced. This will ensure seamless year-round connectivity between Imphal and Silchar in the Cachar district of Assam. The road link to Imphal is via Kohima in Nagaland, and commuters and truckers are often faced with different challenges.
The BJP's performance in Manipur will be vital from the perspective of North East politics. In February-March 2023, three other North Eastern States of Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland, are also slated to go for polls.