Even as the bulk of political and media attention is devoted to the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab elections early next year, BJP will be investing higher in the Manipur elections — to be held around the same time — as a part of its wider push into the Northeast and its mission of a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’.
After winning the Assam elections and becoming a part of the Arunachal government, the BJP national leadership is confident of scoring a hat-trick with Manipur.
The campaign is being spearheaded by Ram Madhav, the influential party general secretary who strategised the party victory in Assam and has been given charge of the Northeastern states.
Political sources said that BJP believes Manipur is ripe for a change. Congress CM Okram Ibobi Singh has been in power since 2002, after winning three consecutive elections. The government now faces deep anti-incumbency, and the BJP suspects the party is being torn by internal factionalism. The party is also hoping to use its power at the Centre to promise the state’s electorate that having the same party lead the government in Imphal will yield more benefits.
The BJP also feels that the demographic mix in Manipur is suitable for expansion. Meiteis — the dominant community in the state — are primarily Hindus, whereas the tribal-dominated hills are primarily Christian. Forty of the 60 seats in the state assembly are in and around the valley, with Meitei population — this will be the BJP’s key target even as it hopes to pick a few seats in the tribal pockets, party sources confirm.
But BJP faces a challenge. The central government signed a framework agreement with Naga rebels — the NSCN (I-M). The Naga groups have traditionally demanded a greater Nagaland, which includes the Naga-speaking areas in Manipur. The demand has drawn fierce opposition from Manipur’s Meitei establishment and is an emotive issue in the state.
Top leaders admit it is a balancing act, but say they have committed that the territorial integrity of Manipur will not be compromised at any costs. This, they hope, will be enough to assuage the apprehensions of the Meiteis.
If the BJP game-plan succeeds, it will launch yet another blow to the Congress, cement BJP’s claims of being a truly national party, and open up doors for more Lok Sabha seats from the east in 2019. It will also be hugely symbolic that a state which has long seen a history of secessionist movement opts for a party that has long been associated with a version of strong Indian ‘nationalism’.