This election, andro and sekmai seem to have drowned Andro and Sekmai in Manipur.
With capital letters, Andro and Sekmai are assembly constituencies close to state capital Imphal. Without, they are different qualities of a local brew called Yu that quenches thirst in dry Manipur.
Made from fermented rice and stem of an indigenous creeper called yangli, Yu is to Manipur what Feni is to Goa and Handia or Mahua to central India.
Officials across Manipur have seized 63,840 litres of liquor since January 4, when the poll code of conduct came into force. Much of it – 53,457 litres – was country liquor of the Yu kind.
Home-based brewers point out that the liquor seized was in transit, not off the shelves in Andro village, 25km east of Imphal, or Sekmai Bazaar, 20km north flanking National Highway 2 blockaded a few furlongs beyond.
Yu regulars say the Sekmai variety is superior to what Andro offers and thus commands a higher price – Rs 100 for a litre – that is “worth every drop”.
The tradition tag does not make Yu illegal. Anti-alcohol diktats by Manipur’s rebel groups also do not apply to the brew since it is deemed a cottage industry sustaining 20,000 people in the two constituencies with a total of 53,400 voters.
The preference of sekmai to andro had in 2015 made Govindas Konthoujam, commerce and industry minister in Okram Ibobi Singh’s Congress government, propose packaging the liquor as Laigi Sekmai in Manipur and beyond.
He also had Europe and Asia in sight since Japanese experts who stayed in Manipur in the 1990s for a Tokyo-funded sericulture project had compared sekmai with sake, a popular rice wine in Japan.
“We hope the plan to upgrade sekmai as a global brand becomes a reality to usher in an economic revolution here,” Khomdram Roshan, 38, of Sekmai Bazaar said.
Unlike the local brew, politics in Sekmai – the only constituency among Manipur’s 60 reserved for scheduled castes – does not appear to be intoxicating enough for people to discuss. Here, incumbent Khwairakpam Devendro Singh of Congress is in a straight fight with Bharatiya Janata Party’s Heikham Dingko Singh.
Andro, though, has been more politically stimulated since Thounaojam Shyamkumar, now a Congress candidate, contested the seat in 2007 for a regional party from jail in Delhi. He had been arrested for links with an underground outfit.
Shyamkumar’s rivals are Nimaichand Luwang of BJP and K Ningthemjao of the regional Manipur National Democratic Front.
Election in Andro and Sekmai are scheduled in the first phase on March 4.