Andro Loves jailbirds, it appears. And, a Tihar Jail inmate could benefit the most from this affection. In 1974, Md Ashraf Ali set the trend by winning the Andro Assembly constituency from the Imphal Central Jail. Ali had a murder case registered against him.
For contractor-politician Thounaojam Shyam Kumar Singh, it is a similar story this time around. But the battle is seemingly tougher for Singh, who faces a more serious charge — hobnobbing with militants and conspiring against the Indian state.
On October 9 last year, Delhi Police arrested Shyamkumar, 41, along with two top leaders of United National Liberation Front (UNLF) as they were trying to board a Kathmandu-bound flight. Charged with being a sympathizer of the outlawed militant group, he was subsequently sent to Tihar jail. According to the police, a baggage search revealed compact discs and a pen drive containing details of army, CRPF and BSF camps. Singh is slated to be produced in court on February 12.
But in a state known for secessionist movements, that was a “bankable crime”, and the Manipur People’s Party (MPP) was quick to cash in. Singh is fighting the assembly election for the third time. Even after losing in 2000 and 2002, Singh remains a “brave heart” and filed his nomination for the 2007 election from the Andro constituency. His is also in an electoral fight with a difference. He is putting up his fight from Tihar jail in the Capital. He fought the 2002 election as a Congressman, but the party denied him a ticket this time around. The MPP offered him a ticket opposite sitting legislator S. Chandro Singh, who ironically defected from the Federal Party of Manipur that merged with MPP prior to this election.
MPP chief L Chandramani Singh, who is contesting the Patsoi seat, denies Singh’s link with any militant outfit. “He is a top-class contractor and a social worker, and in Manipur, people of his ilk cannot escape the militants,” he says. The Tihar jail inmate’s mother, Shymashakhi Devi, also attests her son’s innocence, while supporters — some 15,000 quit the Congress after he was denied a party ticket — insist on his popularity among some 8,000 Muslims and the 2,500-strong scheduled caste Loi community, in a constituency of 26,870 voters.
The Chief Electoral Officer of Manipur, R.R. Rashmi, confirmed Singh’s candidature for the second phase of the assembly election to be held on February 14. “The law is clear. Unless someone is convicted of a crime, he has all the rights to fight an election,” Rashmi told the Hindustan Times.