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As 'lotus' blooms in Manipur, will the Naga issue be solved?

By Onkareshwar Pandey | PUBLISHED: 15, Mar 2017, 17:45 pm IST | UPDATED: 15, Mar 2017, 17:58 pm IST

As 'lotus' blooms in Manipur, will the Naga issue be solved? New Delhi: The 'lotus' has bloomed in Manipur, India’s far eastern state bordering Myanmar.

Nongthombam Biren Singh was sworn-in today as the first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister of Manipur, brightening the chances to break the economic blockade in the state, solve the Naga issue and finally bring the peace in Manipur & Nagaland both.  

Contrary to pre- and post- poll predictions that the Congress government would come back to power by securing a majority, the formation of the BJP government has come as a total surprise to all.

The BJP bagged 21 seats. The Naga People's Front (NPF) and the National People's Party (NPP) with four MLAs each supported it. Besides, one MLA each of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and independents also supported it.

The Congress had been in power for three consecutive terms.

No one believed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the BJP will form the next government in Manipur, because till the last Assembly elections, the presence of the BJP was so nominal in the state that the party had hardly fielded any candidate.

However, things started changing first after the BJP’s ascension to power at the Centre in 2014 and then after its stunning victory in Assam in 2016.

The BJP leaders supported by the dedicated team of senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionaries and workers scripted a dramatic turnaround of fortunes in the North East, which has been a traditional stronghold of the Congress party.  

In Manipur, BJP national president Amit Shah had assigned one of its senior leaders Prahlad Singh Patel to achieve the goal of forming its first government giving him a very challenging task.  

Patel, a Member of Parliament from the Damoh Loksabha Constituency in Madhya Pradesh and a former union minister, is known for his organisational skills. He had surprised everyone in the party by mobilising support of lakhs of labourers of unorganised sector in the past and was subsequently made the National President of "Asanghatit Majdoor Sangh".

Working on the guidelines given by Ram Madhav, one of the RSS’s finest strategists to repeat Assam in Manipur, Patel, a member of the BJP National Executive, camped in Imphal for nearly two months to muster support for the party and achieved it brick by brick.

One of the major challenges for the BJP in Manipur was the lack of senior political leaders in the state, which was fulfilled by pocketing several top leaders of the Congress such as N. Biren, Y. Erabot and O. Chauba Singh. With anti-incumbency at its height after a 15-year Congress rule, led by Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, the BJP strategists milked both dissent within the Congress and the anti-incumbency factor till the last drop and got the desired result.

The BJP got the votes of Hindu population, which is heavily concentrated in the Bishnupur, Thoubal, Imphal East and Imphal West districts of Manipur valley where Hindu majorities average 67.62 percent (range 62.27–74.81 percent) according to the 2011 census data.

The Hindutva Party successfully made its base among the ethnic Meitei group of Manipur valley, which consists of 58.9 percent of the total population of Manipur, about 41.4 percent of them profess Vaishnavism school of Hinduism, which became a dominant force in the state in eighteenth century when the king, Garib Niwaj (1708–48), declared it as the official state religion.

The Manipuri Hindus profess Vaishnavism of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Bhakti preacher of Bengal, which stressed on Krishna Bhakti. However, a large minority of Meitei people practise Sanamahism (traditional Meitei religion) and Christianity.

Manipur, once described as the 'Jewel of India', was a Union Territory till 1972 when it became a full-fledged state. It has a population of two major groups - the people who inhabit the hills are called the Nagas and those who inhabit the valley are called the Meiteis. The hills are also inhabited by the Kuki tribes.

In 2012 Assembly elections, Ibobi Singh-led Congress party had got sweeping victory in Manipur bagging 42 seats also because the opposition was divided. But this time, the BJP successfully built an anti-Congress platform by getting on board leaders who have popularity of their own but had fallen out with Ibobi Singh. This included Heingang MLA N. Biren Singh, who was sworn in as the Chief Minister of the first BJP-led government in Manipur today.

A national level footballer turned journalist turned politician and a former Congress minister from Manipur, MLA N. Biren was on Monday  unanimously elected the leader of the BJP legislature party. In October 2016, Biren had resigned from the Manipur Legislative Assembly and the Manipur Pradesh Congress Committee, this came after revolt against Chief Ministers of Manipur Okram Ibobi Singh.

Interestingly, on the Naga issue, the BJP was banking on the strategy which the Congress thought would be disastrous for the saffron party and did well in the valley, where the Congress was hoping to reap the benefits of economic blockade by United Naga Council.

All Nagas in the Manipur state, under the banner of United Naga Council, have declared the political severance of ties with the then existing Congress government of Manipur in 2010.

The Congress party could not gain much support in the valley even after its allegations that if the BJP came to power, it would compromise the territorial integrity of the state and the party is hand in glove with the Naga National Council (NNC) which sponsored the crippling economic blockade to protest against the bifurcation of the districts in the Naga-dominated hills.

The Congress party, which has blamed the “false promises of the BJP” and militant outfit National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN (IM)) for its poor performance in the state election, actually failed in its strategy of bifurcating the hill and thus create a division between the valley and the hills which has 70 and 30 percent of the seats respectively.

This year’s poll results saw another excruciating lesson in Manipur. Irom Chanu Sharmila, the woman who gave 16 years of her youth fasting alone in her special prison cell in a hospital to fight for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, AFSPA 1958, got just 90 votes in her contest against the Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh and was so humiliatingly dismissed from politics, which will be remembered for long.

Now, since the NPF has joined the government with its four MLAs, the people of Manipur hope to get rid of economic blockade by the NNC and a more peaceful atmosphere for the all-round development of the state. (ANI)

# Writer Onkareshwar Pandey is a Sr Journalist and presently Editor, News at Asian News International (ANI).
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