Manipur Elections 2017: The Parties and the Lessons
By Amar Yumnam
Manipur has just experienced the most significant Elections of this century. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century and till the 2012 Elections, these have been a rather one Party show. But this time there has emerged a more or less equally strong contender to the incumbent. While the complete outcome is yet to be unfolded, the results have many lessons for the two big contenders to power and the politicking they have been playing so far.
Let us begin with the lessons which the Congress Party need to learn from the winning or rather comparative lack of it in the latest Elections. While in the earlier two Elections in particular, the Congress Party had enjoyed a rather unchallenged ride to power. But this time, it has been made to fight for every single seat and run for its money. Further, in a very unusual way, the Party has failed to even win adequate number of seats to form government on its own despite having been in power under a single leadership for almost one and a half decades. This implies a lot for the Party which the people really intend to convey. First, the people are asserting their disapproval of the way the State has been governed since the beginning of this century. This disapproval can cover various arena spread over development, ethnicity, governance (read corruption and effectiveness of development delivery) and territorial jurisdictional issues. General development dissatisfaction issues have been coupled by the wide-scale another on the quality and character of project related contract works. The last decade has experienced deepening and widening of ethnicity-based political articulations. The general population of any ethnicity have only borne the costs of these orientations instead of realizing any benefit out of it; the masses have been expecting early redressal of these grievances. Further, corruption and the emergence of a strong coterie of beneficiaries of administration have been the widely shared talks of the Manipur society during the last decade. These have been further complicated by jurisdictional issues over territory by the various ethnicities. Second, consequent upon these disapprovals, the people are expressing loud and clear through the latest Elections that they have been looking for an alternative to the Congress Party. Third, this looking out for an alternative significantly implies that the people do want change in terms of real social transformation. All these implications need to be minutely digested by the Congress Party as the recent trends in declining national influence of the Party in as much as becoming more like a Regional Party.
Now the next question relates to the BJP. Well this Party has done very well; from only one Member in the last Assembly, it has been able to return twenty-one on its own in the just concluded Elections. Despite the organizational weaknesses and the ticket allocation controversies, this Party has performed very well. It has also given a new level of orientation, depth and articulations in the electoral discourses in Manipur. While the incumbent Chief Minister was in the driver’s seat in all the mobilizations and strategies for the forthcoming Elections, towards the end he was put on the defensive thanks to this new approach. But the reality is that all this has not been enough. Despite the widespread disapproval of the character and quality of the incumbent Congress government, this Party could not convert the disapproval into voting in favour of it. Now what does this mean? First, it implies that the people of Manipur are yet to be fully convinced as to the suitability of BJP as a perfect substitute for the Congress Party in so far as the interests and the issues of Manipur are concerned. The people of Manipur has seen the Party as rather a lesser evil than a better one vis-à-vis the Congress Party. Second, the ultimate foundation of the Party in terms of cultural and religious orientations have been suspects. Third, the people expect a definitive stand of the Party on the core socio-political issues of Manipur before fully putting the Party in charge of the affairs of Manipur.
It is in such context that some candidates have been returned from smaller Parties. This implies that the local population rather expect the limited issues of their constituencies to be addressed in spite of fully opting for the larger national Parties. In other words, this means the lack of generalised credibility of the two main contending Parties. Further the return of the Congress candidate from Ukhrul constituency itself, given the jurisdictional issues in recent years, conveys a lot in terms of what the people want in terms of political articulations and mobilisations vis-à-vis the ethnicity-based strategies.
Now the people have not approved the outcomes of the Congress Party’s rule of fifteen years but have not fully opted for the BJP either. People want change no doubt but still not fully confident about the credibility of the BJP to deliver either. This is where the BJP needs to be extra cautious. The Party has got quite a few among the winners who are equally as bad as the lost candidates of the Congress and fully convergent with the publicly disapproved administrative character. This demands that the Leader of the Legislative Wing of the Party should be someone with experience, credibility and commitment to the solution of the core issues of Manipur on a firm basis. This challenge cannot be faced by political novices despite their impressive recent performances.