Is Manipur headed for President's Rule? BJP in a bind since beginning of blockade
The deepening political crisis in Manipur has reached New Delhi's doorstep now that Governor Najma Heptullah has recommended that President's Rule be imposed in the state after she held discussions with the top brass including Jitendra Singh, Development Of North Eastern Region (DONER) Minister.
Calls for an election
Alarmed with the prospects of the Centre declaring President's Rule in the state, all Congress legislators, including the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, have reached Delhi to convince President Pranab Mukherjee and officials of the Election Commission of India (ECI) that elections be held on time along with other states.
The Election Commission of India is likely to declare the dates of assembly polls of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Punjab on 4 January.
This comes after more than two months of a continued blockade by the Unified Naga Council (UNC) in protest against the state government's decision to carve out seven districts from Naga inhabited areas.
However, it is not clear if the central government would act on the Governor's proposal after Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said how the government was not in a hurry to impose President's Rule and was in touch with all sections to ease the blockade.
Informed sources in the BJP say that this may lead to postponement of the assembly elections in Manipur.
The saffron party is divided on this question. While a section, including Ram Madhav, believes that postponement may derail the momentum the party has built up in the past few months, the other section believes that if the polls were to be postponed it would work to the benefit of the party, which is anyway losing the momentum owing to blockade.
The section against postponement, however, thinks that since there is no clarity on how the situation will unfold even if the polls were to be postponed, it is better to hold them at the designated time.
A volatile state of affairs
Earlier, the Union Home Ministry had submitted a report to the ECI on the law and order situation in the state. Sources say that the reports specifically mentioned how the situation in the state continues to be volatile and unfit for free and fair elections.
The Home Ministry report, which was forwarded to the state government led by Ibobi Singh, also mentions how the UNC continues to hold sway in Naga dominated districts like Ukhrul and Senapati, making conduct of free and fair elections difficult.
The chief minister stands to gain from the blockade, which has led to resentment among the majority population of Maeties and other tribes in the valley districts.
BJP strategists believe that CM Singh is deliberately allowing the blockade to continue for it suits him politically.
Meanwhile, Congress remains unfazed by these political developments and feels that it will benefit even if the elections are held on time or even later. "However, we would want the elections to be held on time as we have the momentum going our way," a Congress leader said.
Congress' optimism emanates from the fact that the dominant Meteis, who constitute almost 60% of the state's population, are backing the party after life has been thrown out of gear in Metiti-dominated plains of the state due to economic blockade by the Naga backed outfits. Even the Kukis are ecstatic with decision of creating new districts and have extended support to the grand old party.
The prevailing sentiment in the state is that BJP's plans of wresting control of poll-bound Manipur has been checkmated by a political masterstroke by three-time Congress chief minister Ibobi Singh.
Battling anti-incumbency and an aggressive BJP, the Congress was set to lose the assembly elections till Singh made the announcement of carving out seven districts from Naga inhabited areas which has dramatically changed the political dynamics of the state completely.
Over the last one year, Congress was at the receiving end from the dominant Meitei community for not introducing the inner line permit. In his efforts to assuage the Meities, the state government passed three bills restricting outsiders from settling in the state. The move did pacify the community to an extent, but infuriated several tribes in the state who labelled it as anti-tribal.
After hectic parleys with various tribes and the Meities, the state government announced creation of seven districts, particularly Kangpokpi in Kuki-dominated Sadar Hills. Jiribam, Tengoupal, Pharzol, Kakching, Noney and Kamjongin are other districts which have been carved out of the Naga inhabited land.
Aware of Ibobi's plans, the Unified Naga Council (UNC) imposed a blockade on two crucial highways connecting the Meitei inhabited plains of the state. This infuriated the dominant Hindu community, which was beginning to sway towards BJP. The ruling party received a shot in the arm after influential BJP leader Khumukcham Joykishan joined the Congress. Many believe it to be a sign of shift in perception about the BJP amongst the Meiteis.
Under these circumstances, Congress was successful in propagating a new narrative of BJP and UNC reaching at some sort of understanding for political gains at the behest of Meities and other tribes.
"It is true that BJP and Nagas are together in diluting the territorial integrity of Manipur. No one knows about the finer details of the peace agreement between the central government and the NSCN(IM). The possibility of an understanding over creation of Greater Nagaland can't be ruled out," said a Congress functionary.
The BJP leadership on the other hand is caught in a catch22 situation in the state. As a top strategist explained, using force to the clear the blockade would infuriate the Nagas, whom the Centre is engaged in talks with, especially after a framework agreement was reached last year.
"Nagas say the forces are being sent to target them," the strategist explains. NSCN (IM) the faction of the Nagas engaged in talks had recently claimed that the Centre was acting at the behest of the state government. "The all out support to Ibobi Singh has created huge trust deficit in the Central leadership of India," the NSCN (IM) said in a statement claiming that the Centre has allowed the state government to disturb the peace process at this crucial stage.
Even BJP's alliance in Nagaland with ruling Naga's People Front (NPF), which supports Greater Nagaland, is being looked with suspicion. Congress leaders claim BJP is banking on NPF to help it capture power in the state. "They want NPF to get the Naga votes while they are banking on support from Meiteis. If the central government wants it can talk to Nagas and reach a truce but they are not willing to which speaks volumes about their secret understanding with the Nagas," said the Congress functionary. The chief minister too had said that the blockade would end of the central government wanted.
"The state government for its shortsighted objectives is playing with the national security of the country," the BJP strategist says, pointing out how the Centre is caught in a bind.
Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh claimed that the peace negotiations are on track. The NSCN(IM) statement came after the state government managed to clear the two national highways resulting in resumption of supplies.
The imposition of the President's rule and if the ECI were to decide to postpone the elections could shore up BJP's chances, which look bleak at the moment. And, with Ibobi's masterstroke, Congress seems to have a definite upper hand over its arch rival BJP that has been aggressively pushing for a Congress-free north-east.
Edited by Aleesha Matharu