Learning from the failure to open its account in Manipur in 2012, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made an ambitious push five years later to end Congress’s 15-year rule in the state.
The party is contesting all 60 seats — a big jump from 19 in 2012 — in the state this election. It hopes to add Manipur to the list of BJP-ruled states in the region after Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Incidentally, it is Assam’s winning template that is playing out in Manipur, along with other strategies. In Assam, the BJP was able to rope in several high-profile Congress leaders including Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is now a powerful minister in the state.
Manipur has seen a similar script. In the run-up to the assembly election, six Congress MLAs quit the party and joined the BJP. All of them got BJP tickets to contest the polls.
“We will definitely be the single largest party and expect to win between 30-35 seats. The Congress figure would remain below 20,” senior BJP leader and candidate from Nambol seat T Chaoba Singh told HT.
High voter turnout in Assam last year helped the BJP win and the party is hopeful enthusiasm among voters in Manipur — more than 86% turnout in the first phase and 86% in the second phase — would work in its favour.
“The huge turnout (in the first phase) reflected people’s yearning for change and their disappointment with the Congress government,” Sarma told journalists in Imphal on Monday.
Despite being part of the Naga Peoples’ Front-led ruling coalition in Nagaland, in Manipur, the BJP decided to go alone in the polls — a clear attempt to win votes of the dominant Meitei community in the Imphal Valley.
The NPF is contesting 15 seats in the Naga-dominated areas of the state and there could be a post-poll alliance between the party and BJP to keep Congress out of power. In 2012, the NPF had won four seats.
The BJP also used the four-month old blockade of national highways by United Naga Council, the apex Naga body in Manipur, to target the Congress and chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
At his rally in Imphal last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to end the blockade if BJP came to power in the state. BJP president Amit Shah said the blockade would end within 24 hours of his party assuming charge in Imphal.
The ruling Congress tried to put the Centre on the mat by raking up the issue of the 2015 Framework Agreement between National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah and the Centre.
Details of the agreement are yet to be made public, but there are apprehensions in Manipur that the state’s territorial integrity could get affected if the deal gets implemented.
To negate such fears, senior BJP leaders including Modi, Shah and Union home minister Rajnath Singh stressed in their rallies that Manipur’s territory would not get affected by the agreement.
While Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was the only star campaigner for the party in Manipur, the BJP bid was headlined by Modi, Singh and Shah during the last days of campaigning.
Unlike in Assam, where the party’s projection of Sarbananda Sonowal as the chief minister candidate helped secure votes, the BJP decided not to project anyone for the top post in Manipur and relied solely on Modi’s appeal to work.
Aware that CM Singh, who holds the record as Manipur’s longest serving chief minister, could deny it victory, the BJP chose to target him.