By Ashima Makhija
The Manipur General Election 2017 was definitely the most competitive and closely contested election that the state had seen so far. On one hand was Ibobi Singh, who had been the Chief Minister for the past three terms and had won 42 out of the 60 seats in the 2012 elections. On the other hand, was the fierce Bharatiya Janata Party; who challenged the 15-year-old colossal rule of the Congress Raj. There are several factors that gave BJP the edge in this election and fuelled their chances of securing a majority in the Manipur legislature, despite them not winning a single seat in the previous election.
The first and foremost change from 2012’s failure was the number of seats for which BJP contested. In the previous election, BJP contested only 19 of the 60 seats. But this time, the party contested for all the constituencies in the state. This was a big jump for the party. The leaders that stand at the forefront of electoral campaign play a decisive role in any election. BJP’s strategy was to grace the electoral thoroughfare with leaders like Prime Minister Modi, Union Minister Rajnath Singh and party-president Amit Shah. Therefore, the masses were wooed and charmed by the national leaders whereas the local leaders and representatives occupied a subordinate position. This tactic of mesmerising the crowds with leaders like Modi and Shah has been used by BJP in several other state elections. Though Rahul Gandhi visited Manipur too, the campaigns of Congress have largely been sustained by Ibobi Singh, who could not compete with BJP leaders in terms of popularity or public credibility.
Challenging a Defunct Government
Throughout its campaign, BJP raised multiple questions about the effectiveness of the Ibobi government. Firstly, the issue of corruption was raised. BJP claimed that widespread corruption in the government has been the sole cause of low development in the region. Amit Shah at a rally said that the funds sent by the Center don’t translate into social or economic infrastructure since corruption has become an institutionalised instrument of the government. At a rally in Imphal, after commenting on the failures of the Congress government, PM Modi promised to build infrastructure and create a strong tourism sector for the state.
The ongoing economic blockade of the state was very tactfully approached by both sides. The United Naga Council has blocked two national highways since November 2016, which has crippled life in the Imphal valley. This was done in retaliation to the CM’s decision to create seven districts out of ancestral Naga land. The motive behind this move was to secure the Meitei and Kuki vote banks but since the economic blockade, the CM has shifted the blame to the Center. He has declared the Center’s incompetence to deal with the issue as the root cause of its endurance.
But these claims do not seem to have generated the desired effect, as the people of Manipur got drifted away by the BJP Wave, and saw the Ibobi Government as the one that has been defunct. Also, Amit Shah promised an instant solution to the economic blockade upon BJP’s accession to power. Even Modi spoke of how tackling the economic blockade would be a priority of the BJP state government.
Thus, BJP successfully convinced people that it stood against a corrupt and defunct government.
The North-Eastern Norm
Another side factor that could have contributed to BJP’s success in the state is its growing outreach in the north-eastern states. BJP has already won elections in Nagaland and Assam through its coalitions. A common characteristic in both the states was the high turnout. In Manipur, 84% voter turnout was recorded for the first phase and 86% in the next phase. In Assam, the high turnout was viewed as a cause of BJP’s victory and a consequence of its campaigns. “The huge turnout reflected people’s yearning for change and their disappointment with the Congress government,” Sarma, a BJP MLA of Assam told journalists in Imphal on Monday.
Another commonality between Assam and Manipur is that in both states, BJP roped in some high profile Congress leaders like Himanta Sarma in Assam. In the Manipur elections, six MLAs from the Congress party have contested elections on a BJP party ticket. Thus, Congress lost its credible contestants while BJP gained players who were well-versed with the playing field.
Thus, several factors have led to BJP’s success in a state where it has been virtually absent for the last three elections. Their propaganda and campaign did not simply overthrow a 15-year-old government but also the longest-serving Chief Minister of the state who was expecting a fourth term.
Featured Image Credits: Phualva Times