Manipur polls: The battle for Churachandpur

Manipur polls: The battle for Churachandpur

Submitted by alvin on Wed, 2017-03-01 09:44 The streets of Lamka town in Churachandpur district, Manipur, have no large hoardings and bereft of loud speakers. There are the usual party flags on road sides and at candidates’ residence but the atmosphere is not reminiscent of earlier polls. A typical tribal district, elections in the past were like a festival with people moving around, lots of activities, music, public gathering which went on till late into the night. But not this year. Other areas in Manipur such as Senapati, the key border district with neighbouring Nagaland, prominently saw BJP party flags along the highway. There are reports of violence in Tamenglong district and an attempt on the life of the sitting Congress MLA from Nungba assembly constituency. The dust from the creation of new districts is yet to settle down in Kangpokpi, Jiribam and Pherzawl.  Imphal valley had more colours and public rallies than the hills, with numerous heavyweight star campaigners, including the prime minister, swooping down to get a majority of the 40 seats, whereas the hills areas with only 20 seats were paid less attention by the national political parties. As of now, the 2017 polls in Manipur will be straight fight between the BJP and the Congress. In Churachandpur district, all the Congress sitting MLAs will see a tough challenge from the BJP. Many of the sitting Congress MLAs have now shifted their loyalty either to the BJP or to the National People's Party or the North East India Development Party (NEIDP).    In Churachandpur assembly constituency, neither the BJP nor the Congress is likely to get majority.  The Congress party office wears a deserted look while the BJP office has shut down ever since party tickets were distributed in early February. The fight for Churachandpur town will be most keenly watched in the whole of the district. This is the town where nine dead bodies lay unclaimed in the district hospital morgue. This is the place where the violent public uprising took place after passing of the three ILP-related Bills in August 2015. In the aftermath of the violence and subsequent protest, Churachandpur town and the district as a whole have not been able to come back to normalcy. With the dead still lying unburied, there is an uneasy calm in the town. The polls have only added to the atmosphere of uncertainty. At the public protest site, also called “Salpha Pumbuuk”, in the town, the symbolic nine coffins with wreaths lay unattended with no activity except a prayer-cum-vigil held by a few women near the hospital morgue occasionally. The dead bodies and the now infamous three ILP-related Bills are a factor in this election for Churachandpur district. Even as agitators and general public at large have opposed moves to politicise the deaths, the dead are an issue; an invisible presence in this election. Interestingly, sitting MLA Phungzathang Tonsing, who was a staunch Congressman and a former minister, has joined the National People’s Party (NPP). As a sitting MLA of this key constituency, the veteran politician was the main target of the public agitation. The sitting MLA’s move to leave the Congress could be an indication of the sinking prospects of the party in the district. As countdown begins for the polling day, the BJP made a last-minute attempt to woo tribal voters. None of BJP’s star campaigners, including the prime minister who campaigned in the valley, went up to the hills. To make up for it, the BJP sent its tribal ministers to the hill areas. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is slated to visit the key Churachandpur constituency on February 2, just two days before the polling. Perhaps too little too late? Most of the six sitting MLAs in Churachandpur are likely to be reelected, including the sitting MLA of the assembly constituency, who is likely to get a fourth consecutive term. There is disquiet in Lamka. People are uncertain about which party to vote for. There is an underlying tension and anxiety. There have also been clashes between workers and supporters of the BJP and the INC, particularly in the rural areas of the district. The turbulent years have forced a few changes in Churachandpur. For the first time, the district saw public campaign for a “clean election”. Significantly, Evangelical Baptist Convention Church took out a public rally and issued a written public appeal on the election. Similarly, Churachandpur Philanthropic Organisations – Young Paite Association , Young Mizo Association, Hmar Youth Association, Zou Youth Organisation, Chin Youth Association, Simte Youth Organisation – issued a joint public appeal calling upon citizens, candidates ad supporters in the district to refrain from violence, use of force, coercion, and use of money power. As the two major national parties are out for a straight fight, voters will obviously get divided between these two. With the Congress still a strong contender and the BJP expected to perform much better than earlier elections, the 11th state assembly is likely to see a coalition led by either of the two national parties. Other smaller and minority party will play a major deciding factor in the polls.