New Delhi: The BJP shifted the venue of prime minister Narendra Modi’s rally – slotted for February 25 – from the historic Kangla fort in the heart of Imphal to the city’s outskirts.
The change in venue is believed to be in response to a complaint filed with the state election commission by Irom Sharmila’s party, the Peoples Resurgence and Justice Alliance (PRJA), on February 16.
The seat of ancient power, the Kangla Fort, has over 300 places of worship. As per the Election Commission’s model code of conduct, no place of worship can be used by a political party as a forum for election propaganda.
On February 21, Erendro Leichombam, the convener of the party, said, “Though the EC responded to our complaint saying it will look into the matter and respond within 48 hours, it has not done it yet. However, we feel humbled to have done our part in protecting our sacred Kangla from political profanity.”
In a press note released by the party on February 16, Erendro said, “The Kangla is a sacred site for us the Manipuris, particularly the Meiteis. We will not tolerate a political slugfest inside the premises of the sacred Kangla. We are outraged as Manipuris that the BJP will even plan something so insulting to us.”
Earlier, PRJA also lodged another complaint to the EC against the BJP.
“It was against the party’s posters put in Imphal and other places with the face of the prime minister promising the state an economic package of Rs 12,000 crores. As per the model code of conduct, no such promise can be made by a ruling party,” said a functionary from PRJA’s media team. She said, “Though the EC responded to that complaint within 48 hours, it has not responded to the latest complaint.”
Speaking to The Wire from Imphal, Umakanta Sharma, president of BJP’s Imphal central (city) district, however, played down the PRJA complaint, saying, “Two-three days ago, the party decided to shift the venue for some reasons to the city outskirts, to a place called Lanjing in Imphal west district. It will be held at Lanjing Achouba ground.”
It is the same venue where Modi addressed his last rally, in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Lanjing falls under the state’s Patsoi assembly constituency, which is likely to witness a four-cornered contest with Congress’s Akoijam Mirabai (a minister in the Ibobi Singh government) and the BJP’s Premananda Sharma along with Ch. Bijoy (National People’s Party) and Sapam Kunjakeswor Singh (North East India Development Party). Both Bijoy and Kunjakeswor Singh rebelled against the BJP after they were denied tickets for that assembly seat.
Incidentally, Kunjakeswor Singh, a former state BJP executive member, asked the state unit to repay him the expenditure he incurred for Modi’s rally in 2014 in Lanjing.
“During the 2014 general elections, there was a rally of Narendra Modi in Imphal. I had invested Rs. 44.70 lakhs then. Again, during the construction of BJP office at Nityaipat Chithek, I donated Rs. 14.79 lakhs. Now that they denied me ticket, I want my money back,” Singh had reportedly told local media in Imphal after the list of candidates was announced in New Delhi at the end of January.
Though state BJP president Khs. Bhavananda told this correspondent last week that the state unit had sent a request to its national chapter to facilitate two rallies of Modi – one in Imphal and one in the hill district of Churachandpur – Umakanta Sharma confirmed on February 21 that “there will now be only one rally addressed by the prime minister in Manipur.”
While the Congress – the BJP’s prime opponent in the March 4 and 8 assembly elections – is presenting its three-time chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh as the chief ministerial candidate, the BJP has not projected any chief ministerial face for the state yet.
Speaking to The Wire recently, both Bhavananda and Th. Biswajit Singh, the party’s lone MLA in the 60-member assembly, said prime minister Modi would be the party’s face for the elections. “As of now, we are contesting the polls with Modi ji as our face. He is the face of change and development that the state desperately needs,” he said.
Besides Modi, Biswajit told this correspondent, “We have made a list of 40 star campaigners for these elections, out of which 17 are state leaders and the rest are from the party’s national leadership.” Biswajit is among the state’s 17 star campaigners.