Scripting history, the Bharatiya Janata Party appears all set to return to power in Manipur, the crucial northeast state that was ruled by the Congress for 15 years before the BJP cobbled up a coalition government to unseat the Grand Old Party in 2017.
The latest trends suggest that the BJP under incumbent Chief Minister N Biren Singh will secure a majority on its own in the 60-seat assembly. The magnitude of the victory and its relevance can be gauged by Congress’ decimation to becoming a single digit entity.
Why BJP’s victory is significant?
The BJP appears to have picked the sentiment on the ground early on, which suggested its growing acceptance among the masses. It broke its alliances with the National People’s Party (NPP) and Naga People’s Front (NPF) – parties that have their support base in the hills – to go it alone this time.
The Manipur victory is a significant milestone in BJP’s mission to expand its reach in the Northeast. If the leads hold true, it will be the first time ever that the saffron party will win a state in the region on its own. Its other victories Assam (2016 and 2021), Manipur (2017) and Tripura (2018) were fuelled by alliances.
Also, the results indicate that the BJP has won a handful of seats in the tribal hill districts, thereby indicating the expansion of its voter base to regions other than the Imphal valley dominated by the Meiteis. Winning on its own and that too in the hills, the BJP has arrived in Manipur.
How did the BJP do it?
After having formed the government in 2017, the BJP focused on changing the development paradigm in the state. From rolling out central schemes aimed to solve fundamental issues to reaching out to the restive youth of the state by offering loans and support under schemes like Stand-Up India to the arrival of the first-ever train in Manipur in January, 2022, the party hit home with its development pitch – “Hanna Hanna BJP, Henna Henna Chaokhatpa” (Again, again BJP; more and more development).
The other key element of the BJP’s growing relevance in Manipur has been the Narendra Modi government’s efforts to solve the longstanding militancy problem in the region, leading to the militant outfit Kuki National Organisation announcing support to the party.
Even the dominant militant outfit Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) took upon itself to sensitise the people in the Naga regions of the state about the importance on the ongoing talks with the Centre.
Importantly, the Congress’ main plank was the promise to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Though the BJP has been silent on the issue, the resounding victory may force the Centre to review its position on the sensitive issue.
Also, the JD(U) has re-entered in the state. The party is not new to the northeast but had not fielded any candidate in 2017, only to come back this time to win around 4 seats. The Bihar-based party’s entry further squeezed the Congress’ vote and may have indirectly aided the BJP.
Undoubtedly, the Manipur victory will further strengthen BJP’s resolve to spread the saffron wave in the Northeast, and this time without the support of allies.