Manipur Polls: Can the BJP Form a Majority Govt of Its Own?

Since 1972, parties have struggled to get a majority in Manipur. But BJP remains confident.

5 min read
Hindi Female

The election in the northeastern state of Manipur is going to be a multi-corner contest with many parties joining the fray. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), contesting on all seats, is not only confident that it is going to form the government for the second time but is also claiming that it is going to gain a majority of its own. The state will witness polls in two phases — 28 February and 5 March.

The Advantage of Being the Ruling Party at Centre

Although there have been exceptions, it has been a trend that the party at the Centre often gets the maximum support in north-eastern states, as they are mostly dependent on the Centre for monetary support. Manipur is no exception. In the past, Congress often benefited in the state for being the ruling party at the Centre. In the 2017 Assembly election, the BJP, which failed to even open its account in both 2007 and 2012, fetched 36.28% votes — more than that of Congress’s 35.11%.

Not only Congress or BJP, but even parties that shared power at the Centre marked their presence in north-eastern states at various times.

In the 2007 polls, even the Bihar-based Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which was then a constituent of UPA, got three seats with a vote share of 6.67%, while in 2012, another UPA constituent, the Trinamool Congress, emerged as the second-largest party by winning seven seats with a vote share of 17%.


One would also find that the BJP’s best performance before 2017 was back in the 2000 election, when it won six seats with a vote share of 11.28%, the time when it was heading the NDA government at the Centre. In the 2002 election, while the BJP won four seats with a 9.55% vote share, another NDA constituent, the Samata Party, registered its best performance by winning three seats with a vote share of 8.33%.

BJP banks on Double Engine, Development & Peace

That the distance between Manipur and Delhi has reduced and the state has found place on the nation’s map in terms of connectivity is one of the crucial issues highlighted by the BJP. In 2016, after decades of wait, the first broad gauge train finally reached the state. This year, Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav flagged off the first Jan Shatabdi Express connecting Manipur’s Jiribam with other northeastern states, Assam and Tripura.

This January, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 13 projects worth crores of rupees, apart from laying the foundation stones for nine more projects.

The message of the saffron party is that Manipur and the north-eastern region is no longer ignored under the Modi regime.

The Biren Singh government has tried to reduce the alienation of the hills through the “Go To Hills Mission”, a major poll plank for the BJP. The saffron party is also highlighting its efforts to bring peace in the state by bringing an end to the blockades, which were quite common under Congress rule. Also, the Biren government’s “Go To Village Mission”, an initiative to reach out to citizens at their doorstep to ensure delivery of services, may come to rescue the saffron party, which is likely to get electoral benefit apart from the various welfare schemes of Modi government.


Battling Disgruntled Leaders' Anger

After the saffron party announced tickets for all seats in one go, there have been protests by those aspirants – and their supporters – who were denied the tickets. A section alleged that those who worked for the party were ignored, while turncoats were preferred. Many rejected aspirants have joined the Janata Dal (United) and the National People’s Party. Add to this, there has also been an internal rivalry within the saffron party. The rivalry of Thongam Biswajit Singh, a powerful minister, with Biren is an open secret.

In a state like Manipur, where victory is decided by very small margins, many BJP aspirants contesting from the JD(U), the NPP and from other small parties or as independents can potentially harm the prospects of the BJP.

Last time, there were 18 Assembly seats where the mandate was decided by fewer than 1,000 votes. Out of those seats, the BJP and the Congress won seven and nine respectively, while the NPP and the Nagaland People's Front (NPF) won one each. The BJP and the Congress came second in eight and six seats, respectively. The NPP came second in three, while an independent came second in the remaining seat.


The Issues of the Hills and the Plains

The plains dominated by Meitei Manipuris, the majority of whom are Vaishnavite Hindus, have 40 seats, while the hills, dominated by Nagas and Kukis, have 20. Nagas and Kukis, although both are Christians, don’t often agree on many issues. In the hills, the NPF is the most favourable party among the Nagas, while the Congress has been the more favourable one among Kukis. The new Kuki People’s Alliance may dent the prospects of the Congress.

Another issue that resonates in the state, particularly in the hills, is the demand for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which is supported by almost all parties, barring the BJP, which has, as of now, taken an ambiguous stand on the issue.

Meitei Manipuris had for long demanded the implementation of Inner Line Permit (ILP), which was granted by the Narendra Modi government in 2019, an issue highlighted by the BJP. The community is also demanding an ST status. As of now, the BJP is undecided on this complicated issue, while the NPP has lent support to the demand.

In the plains, there are Muslims too, known as Meitei Pangals. In the 2017 Assembly election, the seats influenced by Meitei Manipuris, like Lilong, Wabgai, Wangkhem, Andro, were won by the grand old party. The two other Muslim-influenced seats — Kshetrigaon and Keirao — were won by the BJP, though with a small margin of fewer than 1,000 votes.


Congress and Other Factors

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP got 34.33%, a loss of 2% compared to the 2017 polls, and won the Inner Manipur Lok Sabha constituency. The Congress got 24.71% votes but failed to retain any of the two seats it won in the 2014 elections, while the NPF fetched the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha constituency and garnered 22.55% votes.

In terms of assembly segments, the BJP and the Congress were leading in 26 and 20 seats, respectively, while the NPF and the CPI were leading in 11 and three, respectively. So, it would be naive to completely dismiss the Congress, which has allied with five small parties, including the CPI, in the north-eastern state. Notably, the NPF, which clearly has been stating that it is a constituent of the NDA, is contesting in 10 seats.

Unemployment remains a burning issue in the state.

Despite women voters being more in number than men, the state has seen few women in electoral politics. With the appointment of A. Sharda Devi as the party president, the saffron party hopes that it would be able to attract women voters.

Since Manipur became a state in 1972, parties have struggled to get a majority. It now remains to be seen whether the BJP is able to form the government in the north-eastern state again, and with a majority win.

(Sagarneel Sinha is a political commentator. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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