Smoke signals: how to read the BJP win in Manipur. And why it matters
- BJP has won two assembly seats in Manipur bypolls
- The party has returned to the assembly after 13 years
- It lost power in the wake of a stir against NDA1 deal with NSCN-IM
- The win has raised BJP\'s hope of dislodging the Congress in 2017
- The ruling party is facing dissension against CM Okram Ibobi Singh
- NPF\'s growth is a threat to the Congress, opening for BJP
The BJP office in Imphal broke out in celebration on 24 November as news came that the party had won two seats in the Manipur bypolls.
The jubilation was understandable. The BJP is back in the assembly for the first time since 2002, Kh Joykishan Singh and Th Biswajeet Singh having defeated their Congress rivals in Thangmeiband and Thongju hands down.
The BJP hasn't won an assembly seat after its coalition government with the Samata Party collapsed in 2001.
That was a fallout of the agitation in the four 'valley districts' against the Atal Bihari Vajpayee regime's Bangkok Declaration, which essentially extended the ceasefire with NSCN-IM to Manipur. It sparked fears that Manipur would be broken up since merging of the state's four Naga-inhabited hill districts with Nagaland to form a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim had been a core NSCN-IM demand.
The agitation had led to the death of 18 protesters in police firing and burning of the assembly building.
Before the stir, the BJP had won one seat in 1995, E Kunjakishore marking its debut in the assembly, and six in 2000. The latter result was enough to land it two cabinet berths and three junior ministerships in Radhabinod Koijam's coalition regime.
Then, the Vajpayee government "overlooked the sentiments" of the valley people in its deal with the NSCN-IM, earning the BJP the label of being an "anti-Manipur" party.
So, began the party's electoral drought.
Back from the wilderness
No wonder, the party is so jubilant. The BJP's state chief Th Chaoba Singh described the bypoll victories as "historic". "It is a victory against the muscle and money power of the Congress, a vote against the incumbent government for its utter misgovernance and high corruption," he said.
"The Narendra Modi government has allayed the misconception that the people had of the BJP and proved beyond doubt that the BJP stands for Manipur. The leadership has repeatedly assured that it won't redraw the map of Manipur vis-a -vis the settlement of the Naga issue."
Th Chaoba added, "Modiji's government has also sanctioned a sports university for Manipur and major road and rail projects are being taken up in the state. All this has gradually won the people's trust."
Although the result won't affect the stability of the government, which has 47 seats in the 60-member assembly, it's worrying for the Congress. The party is facing dissidence, largely over Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh's failure to reshuffle his cabinet despite repeated assurances.
Congress' troubles in Manipur - BJP revival, NPF expansion, tribal anger over indigenous people bills
Several legislators who want to become ministers are reportedly feeling restless and "exploring options". A BJP leader claimed that "27 Congress MLAs have approached us and their coming into the party fold is in the pipeline".
Another worry for the Congress is the growth of the Naga People's Front in Manipur. The NPF is a regional party founded in Nagaland whose primary objective is aligned with the NSCN-IM: to integrate all contiguous Naga lands under one administrative roof.
Rise of the challenger
A long-time NDA partner, the NPF has ruled Nagaland since dislodging the Congress in 2003. It recently inducted eight Congress MLAs in the state. The party has also partnered the BJP to take control of five of the six Autonomous District Councils that administer Manipur's hill districts.
As in Nagaland, NPF's growth in Manipur, where it currently has four MLAs, has come at the Congress' expense. For one, the hill districts, which account for 20 assembly seats, were until recently considered Congress bastions.
Consider all this and the Congress' prospects for the 2017 assembly polls look rather bleak.
To pile on the misery, the tribes are venting their anger against three bills passed recently by the assembly to "protect" the state's indigenous people. The people of the hills see them as anti-tribal.
As for the four valley districts, which elect 40 legislators, the voting patterns will continue to be influenced largely by the personal dynamic of candidates rather than parties. Still, the BJP is upbeat.
NPF has 4 MLAs in Manipur and, along with BJP, controls 5 of the 6 autonomous hill councils
"Our twin victories clearly prove that the people have rejected the Congress. The people realise that the BJP can bring real all-round development. Here on, the BJP will only get stronger. We are confident that we will get power in 2017," said Th. Chaoba.
It's early to tell whether the BJP is in for achhe din in Manipur. Much will depend on how effective the party is in building on its recent gains. 2017, after all, is quite sometime away.
A brief history of the BJP in Manipur
- The party's state unit was established on 25 September 1980 with Laimayum Raghumani Sharma as its president.
- Samurailakpam Madhumangal Sharma was the state's first BJP candidate, contesting in the 1984 Lok Sabha election.
- E Kunjakishore Singh was the first to be an elected on a BJP ticket, winning from Yaishkul in 1995 the assembly election.
- In 2000, the BJP joined the coalition government led by the Samata Party.
- From 2002 to 2014, the party didn't win any election in the state.