Political instability was blamed for much of Manipur’s problems until Okram Ibobi Singh became the first chief minister to complete a term in 2007. He extended that record to two terms, but on both occasions, his Congress had the CPI as an ally.
Few doubt Ibobi Singh’s ability to make it three in a row. But the focus of Mandate 2012 is on the ability of the Congress to form a government on its own — more so after parting ways with the CPI ahead of the January 28 election to the 60-member House.
In the 2002 election, Ibobi Singh was in every sense an outsider — a businessman turned politician from the backward Thoubal town. He proved his detractors wrong by steering the Congress-CPI Secular Progressive Front government through a turbulent first term.
If Ibobi Singh pulled off a ‘miracle’ in the first term, the second underscored his diplomacy, with ethnic matters leading to frequent economic blockades — a major issue attributed to the Naga agenda for an ‘alternative administrative arrangement’.
“His leadership and focus on developing rural areas will stand our party in good stead,” said state Congress president Gaikhangam, claiming the party would improve on the 30-seat score of 2007.
Imphal Valley, dominated by the Meiteis, has been the happy hunting grounds of the Congress, giving it 24 of the 40 seats in the last election. Of the 20 seats in the surrounding hills, it won six.
Manipur People’s Party, the principal regional party, hopes to break the Congress ‘stranglehold on the valley’. To this end, it has formed the People’s Democratic Front with the NCP, JD(U), RJD and CPM and inked a seat-sharing agreement with the BJP.
In the hills, the Nagaland-based Naga People’s Front poses a new challenge. It seeks to capitalise on the Manipur-based Nagas’ disappointment with a ‘partisan’ government. The Congress has made it clear that only a decisive victory can help it counter the highway blockades and militancy that plague Manipur.