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As Manipur Looks Set for a Hung Assembly, BJP Appears at an Advantage

The results point to the success of the BJP’s election “war room” – the first of its kind in the state – led by Harvard-educated public policy expert Rajat Sethi.

A vendor sells water-guns with photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of Holi’ in Guwahati on Saturday. Credit: PTI

A vendor sells water-guns with photographs of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of Holi’ in Guwahati on Saturday. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: After a closely-contested, two-phase election in Manipur, the state is headed towards a hung assembly. While the incumbent Congress has bagged 28 seats, its chief opponent, the BJP surprised poll observers by pocketing 21 seats.

Congress has come up to be the single largest party, though short of three seats to have a simple majority.

As per the Election Commission website, while an independent candidate and the All India Trinamool Congress won one seat each, NDA allies Lok Janshakti Party and the National People’s Party won one and four seats respectively. Yet another strong regional party, the Naga People’s Front (NPF), which contested 15 seats in the hill districts, bagged four seats. Though NPF contested against BJP candidates in Manipur, it has an alliance with the BJP in Nagaland since 2003.

Though the governor and BJP leader Najma Heptullah is yet to invite any party to form a government, BJP national secretary in charge of the northeast, Ram Madhav, told reporters in Imphal after the results, “We will try and form the government with support from smaller parties.” Addressing a press meet in New Delhi, BJP president Amit Shah also spoke on the same lines.

Congress president T.N. Haokip also claims that Congress will form a government with “secular regional parties”.

The March 11 performance of the BJP is certainly impressive, considering its vote share rose from a minuscule 2% in the 2012 assembly polls to a whopping 36.2% this year. While the Congress fought 59 seats, the BJP fielded candidates in all 60 constituencies.

The results point to the success of the BJP’s election “war room” – the first of its kind in the state – led by Harvard-educated public policy expert Rajat Sethi. Sethi camped in an Imphal hotel to monitor Congress’s strong poll strategy, woven around ethnic lines. He, along with Ram Madhav and North East Development Alliance (NEDA) convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma, rolled out a calibrated attack on the Congress government based on ground feedback from RSS workers in the electorally-crucial valley districts, home to most of the state’s majority community, the Meiteis, who hold sway over 40 of the 60 assembly seats.

The BJP strategy hinged more on the anti-incumbency of the 15-year-old Okram Ibobi Singh government and allegations of corruption and misgovernance causing “bandhs and blockade”, besides the promise of delivering development, Narendra Modi style.

The Congress succeeded in reversing the growing support for the BJP among the Meiteis since last November after the United Naga Council (UNC) clamped an economic blockade on the two arterial national highways against the state government’s decision to carve out new districts. However, the BJP tried to lift the electoral game by sending senior national leaders including home minister Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and, most importantly, Modi, to campaign in different parts of the state. Without a chief ministerial candidate, the state BJP projected Modi and his development agenda for the northeast as the party’s face to seek votes. The party also showcased its two other chief ministers in the northeast – Sarbananda Sonowal and Pema Khandu – in rallies.

Modi also mentioned the core issue that took away a huge chunk of Meitei voters from the party – the Framework Agreement signed between the NSCN (Isak-Muivah) and the central government over a year and a half ago and kept “secret” since. Modi reiterated in the rally that his party would never compromise with Manipur’s territorial integrity to bring the Naga Accord. He, however, stressed more on allegations of corruption against the Congress government and promised to bring development that Ibobi brought to the people in 15 years “in just 15 months”.

It now remains to be seen whether the BJP will be able to gather 31 seats to form a government that could deliver on Modi’s electoral promises.