Four districts of Imphal Valley—Bishnupur, Imphal East, Imphal West and Thoubal — have always decided who will rule Manipur. Ten Assembly constituencies in Thoubal went to polls in Phase I on February 8 along with two hill districts that voted primarily for the unified Naga homeland issue. But the "real battle" will be fought in the remaining three Valley districts in Phase II on Wednesday.
Militancy aside, two issues dog Manipur—territorial integrity and Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). If Phase I of the election to the 9th Manipur Legislative Assembly on February 8 was about territorial integrity, AFSPA is expected to decide the fate of 155 candidates in 29 seats that go to polls in Phase II.
Candidates in the Valley have always depended on women who outnumber male voters in all the 29 seats. Of the 7.39 lakh voters across these constituencies, less than 3.5 lakh are males while females number 3.89 lakh. And with women leading the anti-AFSPA movement—Irom Sharmila Chanu, fasting since November 2000, is a living example—their franchise would be crucial for the toss-up between ‘national’ and ‘regional’ parties this time.
Of the 29 ‘hot seats’, 10 constituencies are in Imphal East, 13 in Imphal West and six in Bishnupur district. And among the 155 candidates in the fray are three former chief ministers—Rajkumar Dorendra, Wahengbam Nipamacha and Radhabinod Koijam—and 15 former and incumbent ministers. Other notable contestants are former Union minister Thounaojam Chaoba from Nambol in Bishnupur and Manipur People’s Party chief L Chandramani Singh from Patsoi.
Meanwhile, chief electoral officer R.R. Rashmi said adequate security measures have been taken for the 827 polling stations, many of which are hypersensitive owing to the possibility of interference by Valley-based militant outfits. Campaign for Phase II, notably, had ended on a violent note with at least three candidates being attacked.
Other than troublemakers, the state authorities would also be on the lookout for fake polling officers. This follows a complaint against one AS Achin, who had ‘outsourced’ his electoral duty to a kin, K Chanda Desa.
The outsourcing racket would have gone unnoticed had Chanda Desa not been killed along with four others in an ambush on a poll party by the outlawed UNLF last Friday.