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Manipur Assembly election

Manipur Assembly election results: Decisive mandate for the BJP

Print edition : Mar 25, 2022 T+T-
Chief Minister N. Biren Singh  after the BJP’s victory in the Assembly election, outside his residence in Imphal on March 10, 2022.

Chief Minister N. Biren Singh after the BJP’s victory in the Assembly election, outside his residence in Imphal on March 10, 2022.

Prime Minister  Narendra Modi at a campaign rally, in Imphal on February 22, 2022.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a campaign rally, in Imphal on February 22, 2022.

At a polling  booth in one of the constituences where repolling was ordered, on March 8, 2022.

At a polling booth in one of the constituences where repolling was ordered, on March 8, 2022.

The BJP retains power in the north-eastern State by securing a simple majority, dashing the hopes of kingmaker parties and leaving the Congress in tatters.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has retained power in Manipur for a second consecutive term by securing a simple majority in the recently concluded Assembly election.

The BJP’s victory in 32 of the total of 60 seats also dashed the hopes of the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Naga People’s Front (NPF), its coalition partners, of retaining their kingmaker roles and enjoying a significant share of power.

The opposition Congress was trounced, winning only five seats. The grand old party shared the fourth position with the NPF.

The Janata Dal (United), the BJP’s coalition partner in the Bihar government headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, sprang a surprise by winning six seats to finish third after the NPP, which won seven.

In 2017, the Congress had won 28 seats while the BJP secured 21 seats, but the saffron party cobbled up the requisite numbers by stitching post-poll alliances with the NPP, the NPF, and the Lok Janshakti Party, and engineering the defection of a Congress legislator, to form the first BJP-led government in the north-eastern State bordering Myanmar.

Also read: A tale of saffron spread and regional resistance

The BJP’s vote share increased to 37.83 per cent from 36.48 per cent in 2017, while the Congress’ vote share decreased to 16.8 per cent from 35.29 per cent in the previous Assembly election.

Similarly, the NPP’s vote share zoomed to 17.29 per cent from 5.08 per cent while the NPF saw its vote share climb to 8.09 per cent from 7.21 per cent. The JD(U) won 10.77 per cent of the vote in the latest election.

Prominent winners and losers

Among the prominent winners this time were the incumbent Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and Okram Ibobi Singh, former Chief Minister and Congress veteran. The Chief Minister won from his Heingang constituency by a margin of 18,271 votes, defeating his nearest Congress rival P. Sharatchandra Singh in a straight contest. Okram Ibobi Singh won from Thoubal constituency by a margin of 2,543 votes, defeating his nearest BJP rival L. Basanta Singh.

Among the prominent losers was Y. Joykumar, senior NPP leader and Deputy Chief Minister. He lost to BJP candidate K. Ragumani Singh in Uripok constituency by a margin of 909 votes.

Chief Minister N. Biren Singh said on Twitter that the poll verdict was a “the historic victory” and “a testament of the people’s faith in the dynamic leadership” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party’s “citizen-centric governance”.

Of the 40 seats in the valley districts where the Meiteis are in a majority, the BJP won 26 seats against 16 seats in the previous election.

The party’s campaign highlighted the distribution of free rations and vaccines and having ensured that the State remained encounter-free. During a rally in Imphal, Prime Minister Modi asked the people to vote against the Congress which had made “bandhs and blockades the fate of Manipur”. The BJP also focussed on the “double engine sarkar” of Prime Minister Modi and N. Biren Singh to successfully cross the halfway mark.

Also read: Hard-fought win for the BJP

Compared with the impressive show in the valley districts, the BJP’s tally in the hill districts increased by just one seat despite the ruling party harping on two editions of the “Go to Hill” missions of the N. Biren Singh government. Of the 20 seats in the hill districts, where Nagas and Kukis comprise the majority, the BJP won six and the NPF five, while the NPP, the JD(U), the Kuki People’s Alliance and independents together won the remaining nine seats. The Congress drew a blank in the hill districts, where it had won nine seats in 2017. The grand old party was annihilated by a combination of party legislators defecting to the BJP and regional parties making inroads into the Congress’ votes.

NPP position

Although the NPP has become the second largest party in Manipur following an increase in its tally and vote share, the regional party is not likely to get a share of the power this time. N. Biren Singh told mediapersons that he has ruled out a coalition with the NPP but dropped hints of the BJP continuing its alliance with the NPF. The NPF too has pledged to continue its alliance with the BJP and extend support to the new BJP-led government. The NPF recently joined the Neiphiu Rio-led coalition government in Nagaland of the Nationalist Democratic People’s Party (NDPP) and the BJP to form an opposition-less government in the neighbouring State. Even though the NPF is not in a position to bargain this time, its political equation with the BJP in Nagaland is expected to figure in the government formation in Manipur.

After the results were declared, Conrad Sangma, Meghalaya Chief Minister and NPP chief, said on Twitter: “The performance of NPP in Manipur has increased manifold compared to the 2017 elections.” He added that the party was “delighted that our vote share has further increased” and said that this indicated that the electorate had shown trust in the NPP ideology to protect the political and socioeconomic interests of the north-eastern States.

The NPP heads a coalition government in Meghalaya with the BJP (with two legislators) as one of the constituents but it fell out with the saffron party in Manipur after sharing power for five years. Keeping the NPP out of power in Manipur is likely to have a spillover effect in Meghalaya where the Assembly election is due next year.

The BJP’s political equation with the NPF in the new Manipur Assembly is expected to be a key factor in the determination of pre-poll alliances in Nagaland, which is also going to the polls early next year.

Also read: Territory in focus

Speaking to Frontline on the verdict and its implications, Pradip Phanjoubam, noted political commentator, author and founder editor of the Imphal Review of Arts and Politics , said: “NPP’s kingmaker dream is gone. Some of the BJP victories were extremely narrow. In Lamsang seat it was just 400. While it was more less certain the BJP would come out on top, a hung verdict was a possibility till the last. Congress got wiped out in the hills and decimated in the valley.” He pointed out that in the Naga areas, the anger against the party was due to the belief that it blocked the entry into Manipur of Thuingaleng Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).

He said: “Among the Kukis in the southern hill districts, the militant group openly supported the BJP. In the valley, the BJP very effectively used the tough anti-insurgency stance of the Congress, which resulted in a rampage of fake encounter killing during its three terms.”

According to him, the fact that the BJP was the ruling party in the State and the Centre also played a key role, since it “matters a lot in places like Manipur”.

Congress allegations

The Congress alleged that the elections were not free and fair and claimed that Rs.15.70 crore released by the Union Home Ministry was paid by the State government to militant groups under “Suspension of Operations” on February 1 ahead of the first phase on February 28 and another amount of Rs.92.65 lakh on March 1 ahead of the second phase of polling on March 5.

The Congress alleged that these payments to militant groups ensured that the elections in Churachandpur and Kangpokpi districts were not free, fair and peaceful and that they also influenced elections in Tengnoupal and Chandel districts in the second phase.

Also read: A battle of wits

The NPP also raised allegations of attacks and intimidations by militant outfits in favour of the BJP. The BJP, however, denied the allegations and dubbed them false and baseless.

The Election Commission ordered repolling in 12 polling stations in five Assembly constituencies—one in Imphal East and Kangpokpi districts and three in Churachandpur district—in the first phase following reports of clashes, damaging of electronic voting machines and malpractices.

For the BJP, yet another difficult task remains even after it has comfortably crossed the halfway mark, and that is deciding on the chief ministerial candidate. The names of several other contenders for the hot seat are doing the rounds. For the BJP’s central leadership, N. Biren Singh could be the natural choice after his success in leading the party to a victory. However, party insiders said that the leadership is wary of creating an Assam-like situation where incumbent Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal had to make way for North-East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma although the BJP was able to retain power by showcasing the performance of his government. In lieu, Sonowal was made Minister in the Modi Cabinet.

Biren Singh went on record that the BJP would take some time to form the new government, keeping alive speculation in political circles until the BJP top leadership makes a formal declaration.