The March 2017 elections are seeing the state go through fire

The Elections are coming.

The tussles between the state and centre, various political parties and tribes are becoming bigger in the face of the upcoming elections.

In the first week of March, Manipur will go to the polls for state assembly elections but it will not go gently. With elections drawing closer, the state has become a political battleground for national and regional parties alike. With violence erupting in Nagaland, spillover effects may be felt in Manipur where the state is already feeling a power struggle between various faction.

In November, seven new districts were created by the incumbent Congress Government, to fulfill a five year old election promise. As fellow researcher, Priya Ravichandran points out, the creation of seven new districts culls out areas of Kukis and other tribes, in a clear move to pander to the minorities. So is this merely a populist move to gain popularity in an election? No, that would be a terribly gross generalisation. The demand for these districts has been long standing and Ibobi is taking advantage of the timing. The Congress has typically gained favourable standing with the Meitei tribe and with the creation of the new districts, has also managed to placate some of the tribes.

The creation of 7 new districts in Manipur has been controversial because of opposition from various tribes.

However, all is not happy in the hills. The creation of seven new districts has upset Naga tribes who also reside in these districts. The ongoing economic blockade that has been in effect for two whole months now is an outcome of this disaffection. The United Naga Council (UNC) has blocked NH-2 and NH-37 which are essential for supplies to reach the land locked state.

The economic blockade has turned into a tussle on two levels: one is between political parties as well as one between the Centre and the state. The BJP is looking to put up a good fight in the state, by encouraging defection from other parties. The Congress which is in power at the state government has benefited from gaining the vote share of most groups except the Nagas, is not actively working towards resolving the blockade.

NH2 and NH 37 are the arteries of Manipur (Google Maps screenshot)

The BJP at the Centre, particularly the Ministry of Home Affairs, has been trying to clear the economic blockade. According to one report by The Hindu,

The Home Minister had made it clear to the Manipur Chief Minister that if the Manipur government fails in its Constitutional duties, government of India may have to explore other measures under the provisions of Constitution of India to ensure that difficulties of local people are alleviated.

However, Chief Minister Ibobi Singh responded by citing that law and order was a state subject and was of little concern to the Centre. But as the price of fuel hit Rs.250, the Indian Airforce airlifted 96,000 litres of petrol to the energy strapped state. The Home Ministry has approached the election commission to clear the blockade as it argues that the state’s situation is not conducive to holding of elections.

The elections in Manipur are heating up as the choice of political representatives has become increasingly fraught with politics of identity. Perhaps the discussions on February 5th, 2017, between the state and central governments as well as representatives of the Naga Council can end the blockade. Even if they do, the competition is fierce in Manipur and elections are coming.