On Thursday, Manipur can witness what is termed as “surrogate polling” across constituencies that are geographically in Manipur, but “emotionally” in Nagaland, rather the greater Naga homeland.
Some 6 lakh voters across 19 constituencies will decide the fate of 76 candidates, who include chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh, Speaker Maniruddin Sheikh (both Congress) and coordinator of the SPF government M Nara Singh (CPI). They will also decide if the Naga-dominated hills of Manipur eventually become part of the NSCN (Isak-Muivah)'s map of an "integrated Naga homeland".
Nine of these 19 seats are in Senapati and Ukhrul districts, which along with Chandel and Tamenglong districts figure in the greater Nagaland dream. The pro-NSCN United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body of Nagas in Manipur, has fielded six candidates to pursue the "integration issue outside and within the Manipur Assembly".
The agenda is significant in the wake of Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio's "blessings" for the Naga homeland push through the "historic election". "We passed resolutions for integration in the Nagaland Assembly four times, it is time for similar resolutions in Manipur," he said.
Rio had earlier rubbed Manipur the wrong way by granting permission to some 5,000 Manipuri Naga school students to appear for the Nagaland board exams. The exam, labelled the education route to NSCN (I-M)'s integration goal, began on Wednesday under tight security in Nagaland.
Meanwhile, all the 11 UNC-backed candidates - five are in Tamenglong and Chandel districts where polling is in the third phase on February 23 - formed the United Naga Democratic Front (UNDF) on Tuesday to make the agenda apparent. According to UNC president KS Paul Leo, the idea behind backing Naga candidates was to within the have a force 60-member Manipur Assembly to "fight for the cause".