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Tribal seats of Manipur hills slipping from Congress hands ahead of polls

Of the 60 seats in the Assembly, 19 are reserved for the ST communities residing in the hills. The Naga People’s Front (NPF), the BJP and the NPP are making deep inroads in these constituencies.

Published: 03rd January 2022 03:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 03rd January 2022 09:05 AM   |  A+A-

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Image used for representational purposes

Express News Service

GUWAHATI:  The Congress is hurtling down the Manipur hills, where the tribal Nagas and Kukis are the virtual kingmakers. Going by the past three elections and considering the emergence of the BJP and the National People’s Party (NPP), the grand old party is likely to face a stiff challenge in the Assembly polls this year.

The BJP and the NPP are growing at the expense of the Congress. Of the 60 seats in the Assembly, 19 are reserved for the ST communities residing in the hills. The Naga People’s Front (NPF), the BJP and the NPP are making deep inroads in these constituencies.

Prior to 2012, the contest in the hills used to be among the Congress, regional parties and Independents. For instance, nine of the 19 seats were captured by Independent candidates, mostly Nagas, in the 2007 election.

Later, the NPF, a party floated in Nagaland, spread its wings to the Manipur hills, giving the Nagas a platform. 

Besides the NPF, the BJP has emerged as a force by rising to power at the Centre as well as in Assam.

Then, there was the emergence of the NPP. The perception among observers, as well as in the Congress, is that the NPF and the NPP will better their 2017 performance this time.

However, as the constituent of the state’s coalition government, the BJP will have an edge over others.

As for the NPF, observers say that as a symbol of Naga nationalism, it might capitalise on the sentiments of Nagas vis-á-vis the stalemate in the Centre’s peace talks with the Naga rebel groups. The tribal-based NPP is another party the Nagas can relate to.

Headed by Meghalaya CM Conrad K Sangma, the NPP is likely to contest in 40 constituencies this time.

Last time, it had contested in nine and won two. All winning candidates supported the BJP and were inducted into the cabinet. Observers say the NPP might win five to nine seats this time.

The only advantage for the Congress could be the division of votes. It is believed that anti-Congress votes will go to too many parties, eventually benefiting the grand old party.

However, the Congress admitted it is difficult for any party to win in the Northeast without being in power at the Centre.

“We were very strong in the hill areas before 2017, but could not do well in 2017 as we lost power at the Centre in 2014,” said party spokesperson K Debabrata.

“Even if the votes get divided, we will not get less than half of the 19 seats,” Debabrata said, adding the threat to his party is from the NPF and the BJP, and less from the NPP, “for it is people’s fourth choice”.

Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of Imphal Review of Arts and Politics, said the Congress had suffered in 2017 as the party-led state government had prevented NSCN-IM leader Thuingaleng Muivah from visiting his birthplace in Manipur’s Ukhrul.

“The Congress could have won a few more seats in the hills if it were not banned (by the NSCN-IM),” Phanjoubam added.



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