When Chief Minister Ibobi Singh sees the results of the Manipur Assembly elections, he’ll know more than anyone else that his gamble didn’t pay off – the one he took late last year when he carved out new districts in the state.
On 9 December, the Congress government in Manipur created seven new districts by splitting the existing nine districts, taking the total to 16.
While the Naga-dominated hill districts like Ukhrul, Senapati, Tamenglong and Chandel were outraged, this was seen as a masterstroke by CM Ibobi Singh. One that could ensure his political future as the next chief minister of Manipur. With this, the Congress may have thought it had guaranteed itself an electoral victory, at least in the seats in the valley, which is home to 40 of Manipur’s 60 assembly seats.
Anticipating the creation of the new districts by the state government, the United Naga Council (UNC) imposed an economic blockade against the valley areas in October. The blockade has been on for almost 140 days now.
The blockade has also polarised the Meiteis of the valley and the Naga voters. And it is this constituency of Meitie voters that CM Ibobi Singh was targeting for a win. But clearly, that didn’t happen.
It seems that the ploy backfired on Ibobi Singh. The voters saw a reluctant and weak leader in him who was incapable of ending an economic blockade which was happening within the boundaries of his own state; instead he kept blaming the BJP led Government at the centre.
BJP, which won no seats in the last assembly elections in 2012, has bagged 21 seats. The party had no presence, cadre or infrastructure in the state. Most of its leaders are either former ministers of the Ibobi government or leaders who have jumped ship from other parties.
But the gamble has paid off for the BJP, whose electoral campaign was orchestrated by Ram Madhav. In most constituencies, voters have been loyal to their leaders, irrespective of their party affiliation.
So who will form the next government in Manipur? Perhaps the other smaller parties like the National People’s Party (NPP), the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the independents hold that answer.
Between them, they have 11 seats and a simple majority can be achieved with their support. The NPF is unlikely to support the Congress, which created the new districts and the NPP may just favour a brand new government under the BJP.
So in all likelihood, the next government in Manipur may be a BJP-led coalition. If the Congress manages to stitch together a coalition, it will be interesting to see how long it can survive.
(Remember what BJP did in Arunachal Pradesh?)