Manipur imploding with rallies against fake encounters is not a new development. What is, however, new with the Northeastern state is extra-judicial killings becoming a major issue during the assembly election in the Manipur state. For the first time, the ruling Congress is feeling the heat on the issue of fake encounters which have, according to a human rights organisation, led to the killing of 1,528 people in the state between 1979 and 2012.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has reopened the case of fake encounter killing of Chungkham Sanjit, a reformed militant and Rabina Devi, a pregnant woman. They were shot dead in 2009. Already reeling under United Naga Council-led economic blockade since November last year, the state has its political atmosphere fully surcharged with the fake encounter issue.
The resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is using every trick in its electoral armoury to target its opponents, has cautiously raised the issue, as it knows that it would hit a hornet’s nest if it pushes extra-judicial killing issue beyond a certain point.
Also, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh is not going to be the one who could be dislodged easily. After all, he has been ruling the insurgency-hit state for the last 15 years, and he is well aware of the gut feeling of electorates of Manipur. He knows that if voters could feel chary about anything in real sense, it is on the issue of political instability.
It is beyond doubt that Okram Ibobi Singh has emerged as a formidable symbol of stability in the state. Before his becoming the Chief Minister, the Northeastern state saw between 1990 and 2002 as many as seven governments falling like ninepins. This apart, the incumbent Chief Minister belongs to the largest tribal group, Meitei, who dominates in 39 of the total 60 assembly constituencies across the state.
A seasoned politician, Ibobi Singh can polarise Meiteis to his side, if he sees his political chips not doing well. In that background, it is hard to rule out a tough battle between the Congress and the BJP, the saffron party which has made corruption a major plank to hit out its rival in the election.
Will the Corruption Charge Hit the Ruling Congress?
The BJP is hitting the Ibobi Singh government below the belt by levelling charges of corruption against it. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his first and lone election rally in Imphal, called Ibobi Singh a “ten percent CM”.
The saffron party, while raising corruption issue against the state government, maintains that the Manipur Chief Minister has a reputation of being known as a “ten percent CM.” Whether or not this charge sticks to the ruling dispensation in the state, the issue has generated enough political heat in the state, going for the polls in two phases—on March 4 and 8.
The situation is akin to the one when Pakistan government, headed by Benazir Bhutto, lost election in the 1990s as her husband Asif Ali Zardari, who was the-then investment minister, was accused by political rivals of taking personal ten percent commissions on government contracts.
In this case of the Ibobi Singh government, though, no probe has yet been issued, but the opposition has slammed it for irregularities in several projects and the central government sponsored MNREGA scheme.
Will Naga Peace Accord Affect BJP’s prospect?
In August 2015, the Narendra Modi-led Central government and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isac-Muivah) signed an accord to end insurgency in Nagaland. The government’s interlocutor for Naga Peace Talks, R N Ravi signed the accord on behalf of the Indian government, whereas Isak Chishi Swu, the NSCN chairman and Thuingleng Muivah, the group’s general secretary signed the accord on behalf of the NSCN (IM) in the presence of the Prime Minister.
The Congress has asked the Prime Minister to make Naga peace accord’s content public. In its bid to polarise Manipuri voters towards the party, the Congress has also accused the BJP-led NDA government of maintaining secrecy over the issue. Congress vice president, while recently addressing a rally in Imphal, alleged that the Modi government could not take opposition parties into confidence while signing the deal with the NSCN (IM). What otherwise could have been a settled issue by now, the peace accord deal has not yet generated confidence in the people of Manipur.
NSCN (IM) leader Muivah’s interview to “The Hindu”, in which he claimed that his group has not given up the demand for sovereignty, has generated a widespread suspicion on the merit of the accord. This may go against the BJP during the election.
Assembly Election Results 2017 – In Whose Favour?
The saffron party has resorted to door-to-door campaigning across Manipur to bridge the distance between the party and the voters. BJP chief Amit Shah, along with the party’s Manipur in-charge and Union Minister Prakash Javadekar, also took part in one of the door-to-door campaigns.
However, the storm which started blowing after the Ibobi Singh government last year carved out seven new districts in Manipur, has not abated till now. The BJP has further fanned people’s resentment against the incumbent government by raising the issue by way of public platforms.
Therefore, whether or not the Congress is able to retain power in the Northeastern state is a big question. There is also a political record of sorts in the Northeast; assembly polls are won by only those who rule the Centre too.