The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is banking on the Assam experiment – of depending on turncoats – in Manipur in its bid to end the Congress’ 15-year rule in the frontier north-eastern state.
The BJP’s first list of candidates for 31 of the 60 assembly seats announced on Monday figures six former Congress leaders, three of them having been ministers in chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh’s Congress government.
Also in the list are an ‘import’ each from the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the regional Manipur People’s Party (MPP).
But the BJP has left out women, who outnumber male voters by 42,891 in Manipur, from this list. Muslims too have been given the short shrift, though Md. Anwar Hussain has been fielded from the Lilong assembly seat.
Lilong is one of four assembly seats where Manipuri Muslims, also called Pangals and comprising 6% of the state’s 2.72 million people, are the deciding factor. Three of these seats figured in the first list.
Monday’s list expectedly angered “genuine” BJP leaders who had been aspiring for tickets. “By favouring borrowed candidates, the party has undermined the efforts of dedicated members in strengthening the base,” a sulking BJP leader said.
Wary of old-timers, the party has refrained from projecting a chief ministerial candidate in Manipur keeping in mind the face-off between the supporters of two leaders in December.
But it had no qualms about accommodating the ‘bankable’ leaders from Congress and the other parties. It was the formula that helped the BJP to form its first government in Assam with support from the regional Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Bodoland People’s Front.
A third of the 60 seats the BJP won in Assam in May 2016 are represented by those who had left the Congress and AGP.
The six former Congress leaders who have been given BJP tickets are former minister Y Erabot Singh from Wangkhei seat, N Biren Singh from Heingang and Francis Ngajokpa from Tadubi, former MLAs Kh Loken Singh from Sagolband and Z Kijhonbou Newmai from Tamei, and former Pradesh Congress Committee functionary S Ranjan from Konthoujam.
Likewise, former CPI leader N Mangi has been fielded from Kumbi and former MPP leader O Joy Singh from Langthabal. Among the few familiar candidates who have put in years with the BJP is former union minister Th Chaoba Singh, who will be contesting the Nambol seat.
The BJP, it appears, is not done with turncoats yet. Two MLAs – Nemcha Kipgen and Vungzagin Valte – who resigned from the Congress on Monday are set to figure in the party’s second list to be declared by January 27.
“Kipgen and Valte would be joining the BJP on Wednesday (January 25) in the presence of (general secretary) Ram Madhav and (Assam minister) Himanta Biswa Sarma,” Biren Singh told Hindustan Times.
The BJP is expected to field Kipgen from Kangpokpi and Valte from Thanlon, the very seats they had won in 2012. But the chances of Pradesh Congress Committee vice-president S Achouba, who also resigned on Monday, of being given a berth are bleak.
Kipgen, though, could end up as the BJP’s sole woman candidate.
The BJP’s first list of 31 candidates covers 20 seats where polls are scheduled in the first phase on March 4. The rest are in the second phase on March 8.