After being ignored for the past 60 years, the Northeast is now being wooed by the mainstay of Indian politics. The traditional Congress bastion is under siege from the BJP and regional outfits.
Addressing a massive gathering in Imphal in March, BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi said, “Instead of going to big states in the south or other states in the east of India, I chose this state because it has got all the ingredients, both good and bad, to gauge how much India has leapt for better or for worse since Independence. The most important objective for me is to eradicate the ongoing violence, misgovernance and corruption. If we succeed, it will be an example of the BJP’s commitment to bring equitable development and good governance throughout India.”
The message was loud and clear. In his attempt to portray himself as a national leader, Modi wants support from the most isolated and troubled areas of the country, and Manipur fit his bill the most.
As Modi thundered, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi tried his best to keep the party’s grip on the state. “We do not want to impose any ideas because the Congress respects every state and community,” he said at a rally. “As for Manipur, it is small yet capable of achieving bigger things and the Congress has a lot of expectations and hopes. The state has a vast natural and human resources waiting to be tapped. In sports and culture, the state is a pride for India; for instance Mary Kom is accepted as the role model of Indian women and their symbol of courage.”
With 18 candidates in the fray, this Lok Sabha election promises to be more interesting than ever. Political parties want to cash on the volatile socio-politico condition and a crippled economy.
Challenging the national parties are several smaller ones, desperately trying and leaving no stone unturned to make their presence felt. While it might be impossible to think of Sharad Pawar and Prakash Karat forming an alliance at the national level, the CPM and NCP are working together in Manipur.
“It is well understood that Manipur is an impregnable fortress for the Congress and it is imperative to retain its dominion in the face of the losing popularity in the rest of the country. Thus, it is natural for other parties to make a dent here,” says Indira Oinam Devi, a independent candidate contesting from the Inner Manipur constituency. Apart from her, Kim Gangte of the TMC, who is contesting from the Outer Manipur constituency, is the only other female candidate in the fray.
Even Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has laid more emphasis on campaigning in Manipur because the outcome could create an upper hand for the NPF, if it can spring a surprise in the Outer Manipur seat. “The current political situation in the hills of Manipur is very complicated and the party with the right approach and strategy can sway the opinion of an entire community. So, I guess, this is the reason the sudden surge in affection from our national political leaders,” says Peter Thiam, a social activist.
Regardless, the people of Manipur are enjoying the high-voltage campaigning unleashed by national political parties in the state. “Now we can assume that our problems will be discussed and acknowledged even though I am not impressed with most of the claims and promises made by either Modi or Rahul. It is obvious that the candidates and their parties are using issues like AFSPA and corruption only to woo voters. If they were committed, then these issues could have been resolved a long time ago. But the poll frenzy has added some charm to our disturbed lives,” says Khumukcham Bharatbushan, a young teacher at a government school in Imphal Valley.
(RK Suresh is an Imphal-based freelance journalist)