IMPHAL: If Congress is talking up Meitei pride to safeguard Manipur’s territorial integrity , BJP is singing the unity tune between the Naga dominated hills and Meiteimajority Imphal valley.
This election is a unique one for the hill state, coming in the midst of an economic blockade by the United Naga Council (UNC) that has paralysed Imphal valley for 127 days now.
The Congress, led by threeterm CM Ibobi Singh, has led a strident attack on the framework agreement between the Centre and Naga rebels NSCN(IM) and against the UNC’s indefinite economic blockade. This, say commentators, created a space for BJP to project itself as an alternative to the ruling party, especially in the Naga-dominated seats.
BJP has fielded candidates in every Christian-dominated constituency in the hill districts. Half of the 22 seats voting in the second phase on March 8 are reserved for STs and are Christian-dominated.
Eight of the 38 seats that polled on Saturday are also reserved for STs with the Christian electorate forming the majority in these. BJP had candidates here too.
Till now, BJP’s presence in the hill districts has been nominal; the party had less than 1% voteshare in 2007, and a little over 2% in the 2012 polls. But the picture is starkly different now insofar as BJP is concerned.
N Biren Singh has emerged as the most prominent BJP leader this election.Once a trusted lieutenant of CM Singh, he left Congress after a falling out with his mentor. Ibobi’s main troubleshooter, Biren’s exit rattled Congress as he is widely ac cepted among all civil society groups in the hills as well as the valley.
Apart from Biren, four Congress MLAs jumped ship to BJP. The saffron party’s inroads into the hills became possible, say commentators, because of the “polarised atmosphere” between the hills and the valley -a crucial marker in these polls.
It is also why BJP netas in the state are being assertive about protecting religious and cultural identities of groups other than the predominantly Hindu Meiteis in Imphal valley. “BJP’s following among Christians and Muslims is on the rise. We reiterate that all communities will have the freedom of religious and cultural practice. Manipur is today divided on ethnic lines.Our commitment is to bring unity between the hills and the valley ,” said N Biren.
Congress netas are confident that minority voters are with them because of the party’s secular values.
Party vice president Rahul Gandhi at an election rally here said BJP and RSS wanted to “crush” Manipur’s pride and identity.