Election fervour amid Covid wave in Manipur

By-elections to five Assembly seats of the Manipur Legislative Assembly is scheduled ithis November.

After three and half years of political bickering, the cat is finally out of the bag. By-elections to five assembly constituencies of the Manipur Legislative Assembly are going to be held in November this year, though 13 seats out of the 60 member assembly has been declared vacant by the Speaker.

The 13 assembly seats declared a clear vacancy are Andro, Wangkhei, Wangoi, Wangjing-Tentha, Saitu, Singhat, Lilong, Tamenglong, Henglep, Naoriya Pakhanglakpa, Lamlai and Kumbi following resignation/disqualification of members. But, for the time being, Election Commission of India has decided to hold by-elections for Saitu, Singhat, Wangoi, Wangjing-Tentha and Wangkhei as election petitions or challenges to disqualification order and resignation are still pending in the High Court.

Yet who knows, the by-election of the remaining 8 assembly constituencies might be announced anytime soon before November, as soon as the court decides on the petitions, which is why election fervour is rising in all the 13 assembly constituencies.

Every day, there is news of desertion and joining the other camp as orchestrated by aspiring candidates. Chief Minister N Biren Singh set the ball rolling from Wangjing-Tentha constituency for its potential candidate Paonam Brojen who left the Congress and resigned to join the BJP ranks. This followed a high profile visit by NPP chief and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma to the home of former minister and CPI leader Dr M Nara Singh in Wangjing-Tentha constituency. Just before his visit, Conrad had addressed an election meeting in Wangoi constituency, where the Congress turned BJP candidate O Lukhoi Singh is placing his bets on re-election. A BJP diehard and former MLA Salam Joy Singh had already left the BJP, after Lukhoi Singh’s admission to BJP became apparent.

The die for by-elections was cast after three Manipur BJP MLAs joined Congress and four NPP Ministers, an independent MLA and Trinamool Congress MLA withdrew support to the BJP led government and expressed desire to support the Congress. The speaker allowed four of the seven MLAs who have been barred by the Manipur High Court from entering the Assembly to vote. Three BJP MLAs who joined Congress were disqualified. The Speaker disqualified three congress MLAs and a Trinamool Congress MLA, while accepting the resignation of three BJP MLAs who shifted to the Congress camp. That is how, the BJP won the lone Rajya Sabha seat. Also, BJP had help from two Congress MLAs who cross-voted. Now, the party-wise position MLAs as declared by the Speaker are BJP 18, the INC 17, the NPP four, the Naga People’s Front four and one each from the LJP and the AITMC, besides an Independent MLA and one unattached MLA. The strength of BJP led coalition is now 30 in an effective strength of 53 members in the assembly. Out of the six MLAs who resigned from the Congress, five excluding Abdul Nasir of Lilong have joined the BJP.

So now, the November by-elections is going to be a battle royal for the BJP who is seeking to increase its numbers to checkmate pressure tactics from coalition partners especially the NPP, who is all set to increase its numbers also from the tone and pitch of NPP chief Conrad Sangma. For the time-being, the other coalition partner Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF) has no stakes in the by-elections as none are in Naga area. Yet, desertions and alliances continue in all parts of the state considering the possibility of by-elections in other eight assembly constituencies also. The general elections are due in the month of March 2022 to elect 60 members of the Manipur Legislative Assembly. The term of current assembly elected in 2017 will expire on 19 March 2022. Let us wait till then.

First Published:Sept. 16, 2020, 11:49 a.m.