The Sana Konung or the ‘royal place’ is crumbling, and its inmates are close to being paupers. But for the bulk of 23,572 voters in Yaiskul constituency, it is the royalty that rules.
Manipur had witnessed three political movements prior to its merger with the Indian Union on September 21, 1949 following an agreement signed by Maharaja Bodha Chandra Singh. Subsequently, the Congress-led movement took to governance, the one led by the Communists did so partially while the third — pro-monarchy — gravitated towards militancy hoping reclaim the Manipur kingdom.
Yaiskul resident Raj Kumar Meghen alias Sanayaima heads the dreaded United National Liberation Front today. He is a descendant of the royal dynasty that was overthrown by the British in 1891. So is the other ‘raj kumar’ (prince) — Dorendro Singh of the Manipur People’s Party (MPP).
An old warhorse and three-time chief minister, Dorendro Singh has never lost an election since 1974, with the exception of 1995 when he did not contest owing to the Congress’ internal politics. That was the only occasion when Yaiskul went to a commoner, E Kunjesworof the Congress, now Dorendro’s main rival.
Dorendro Singh later quit Congress in disgust, winning the 2002 election on a BJP ticket. Though he is not representing a “national party” this time, he is confident of making it for the umpteenth time. “Because MPP was a party of Ratnakars, it is now the party of Valmikis,” he reasons.
But the fact is that two-thirds of voters in Yaiskul constituency either trace their lineage to the royalty or their loyal servants. Like Tojo Singh, who swears by Dorendro because his great grandfather was a trusted lieutenant of the royalty. Besides, Yaiskul has the highest concentration of Bamons (Brahmins), loyal to the royals through generations.
The Bamons are also being targeted by singer-filmmaker Aribam Jagadish Sharma, who describes himself as a “pauper in the royal constituency”.
An Independent candidate who returned “broke” from Mumbai, he literally wears his poverty on his sleeve.
Sharma could very well have been imitating the impoverished inmates of Sana Konung, Yaiskul’s pride. But as Tojo Singh puts it, make-believe is not the same thing as being a part of the royalty, particularly in a constituency that has always voted for the monarch, not the government.