Polling for the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2022 has been conducted in two phases – February 28 and March 5.
Even after the polls tall claims continue to echo everywhere that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will easily cross the halfway mark of the 60-member Manipur Legislative Assembly and secure more than 40 seats.
All the rank and file of the BJP from its karyakartas to party president, from its candidates to Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren and national leaders from outside the state still stick to their position that they will never have post poll alliance with any political party and there will be BJP all alone new government.
However, the hard reality is that the vote bank the BJP would have and the strength it had in Manipur before the announcement of its candidates for the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2022 broke down. Since then the dynamics has changed a lot.
It seems the BJP leaders still don’t want to accept the hard reality that the disgruntled leaders who left the party over the issue of tickets have left the party with their followers and supporters who once contributed in the show of party strength and its potential vote bank.
Now, the disgruntled leaders have made their way to one or the other of the BJP’s rivals in Manipur, which includes its official ally in the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly, the National People’s Party (NPP), and they are contesting the BJP in maximum number of the assembly constituencies.
The rivalry between BJP and NPP has been now so intense that they fight openly. Assam Chief Minister and BJP’s trouble shooter in the Northeast, Himanta Biswa Sarma attacked the National People’s Party (NPP) addressing an election rally at Moirang for its Congress turned BJP candidate Mairembam Prithviraj.
“NPP will not be a part of the next government in Manipur. BJP on its own will form the new government,” said Assam Chief Minister and NEDA convenor Himanta Biswa Sarma.
The BJP underestimates NPP. Himanta said, “Forget NPP. Such parties have no value. Nobody in this world knows that such a party exists.”
“The NPP MLAs became ministers in Manipur government at the mercy of the BJP. The NPP had nothing to show on its own,” he added.
National President of the NPP and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma took an indirect dig at the BJP while campaigning in Manipur for the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly elections. “The people of Manipur will cast their votes unafraid knowing their future is secure with the NPP,” Conrad Sangma said.
Conrad Sangma also exuded confidence that the NPP will emerge as the single-largest party in Manipur after the elections.
He said that NPP will “call the shots” in the newly formed Manipur government after the elections. “People of Manipur are looking up to the NPP, which will ensure that it becomes the single largest party after the elections,” Conrad Sangma added.
Another party that emerged almost overnight in the state after the recent exodus from the BJP – the Janata Dal (United) under the leadership of former Union Minister and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. JD (U) is a party that did not even contest the last assembly election in Manipur and only few aspirant candidates below two-digit were preparing until last week of January 2022 for the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2022.
However, at least 15 sitting and former MLAs of the BJP and the Congress, and more leaders from these two parties have joined the JD (U). The defectors from BJP include MLA Kshetrimayum Biren, former MLAs Samuel Jendai and Khwairakpam Loken, former Chief Secretary O. Nabakishore and former Director-General of Police L.M. Khaute.
Congress MLA Khumukcham Joykishan, independent MLAs Ashab Uddin, Muhammad Abdul Nasir and former Congress vice-president Dwijamani are also contesting the polls on a JD (U) ticket. Firebrand former Manipur Police Officer who fought Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren’s War on Drugs also is contesting BJP’s cabinet minister Thokchom Satyabarta in Yaiskul AC.
Now, JD (U) is contesting in 38 seats and it cannot be easily underestimated by the BJP. Even though the JD (U) is being viewed by many political observers in Manipur as a creation of the BJP itself – a “B” team to accommodate those who, for one reason or another, could not stand on BJP tickets but are amenable to supporting a BJP government, the disgruntled leaders who left the BJP will be hard to accept it in the emerging present political dynamics in Manipur.
Notably, another ally of the BJP in the incumbent government, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) though contesting in 10 Assembly Constituencies has openly supported the BJP candidate in Jiribam AC where the NPF has not fielded its candidate.
Even though the BJP has boasted that it will form its own government with other party after the result of the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly Election 2022 is declared, Ram Muivah, the NPF candidate of Ukhrul has claimed that they will form the next government in Manipur with BJP.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Congress which has formed a six-party alliance called the Manipur Progressive Secular Alliance with CPI, CPM, Forward Bloc, RSP and JD(S) is fighting on 53 seats, leaving the rest to its allies is confident of coming back to power. Former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi has expressed confidence that the Congress will emerge as the single largest party in Manipur after the upcoming assembly elections, but added that it was open to allying with “like-minded” parties like the National People’s Party (NPP) in case it falls short of numbers.
Senior National Congress leader and AICC observer Jairam Ramesh also said, “We are hoping we will get a majority on our own. But if push comes to shove, we are prepared to work with any political party, provided they sever ties with the BJP.”
Given the presence of at least five parties – BJP, Congress, NPP, NPF and JD (U) – that can be expected to win a number of seats, other than the other smaller parties like Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Shiv Sena, Republican Party of India (Athawale) – RPI (Athawale), Kuki National Assembly (KNA) and Kuki People’s Alliance (KPA), the chances of any single party reaching or crossing the halfway mark seats of 30 on its own still a distant dream.
Moreover, the confidences the BJP has and the way the party has boasted even after the polls that they will get more than 40 seats and form a new government of their own party make people wonder why the BJP is so confident and ask – Is it due to the diktats of the Kuki militants to Kuki people to vote for BJP candidates even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assurance to end Kuki insurgency within five years if BJP is voted to the power?
However, in the event of a fractured mandate where not a single party gets at least 31 seats in the 60-member Manipur Legislative Assembly, various permutations and combinations become possible. It is quite possible that the NPP in Manipur, led by Deputy Chief Minister of the incumbent BJP-led government Yumnam Joykumar would be open to aligning with the Congress. There is also no guarantee that the JD (U) a partner of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the Union Government would support or become a partner of BJP government in Manipur. Other smaller parties and Independent members will be easily attracted to the greater power.
In the 2017 Assembly polls, the ruling Congress won 28 seats in the 60 member House. The BJP got 21 seats. However, the then Governor of Manipur Najma Heptulla invited the BJP to form the government. After the election in 2017, a coalition of the BJP, National People’s Party (NPP), Naga People’s Front (NPF) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and a Congress MLA formed the government, with Nongthombam Biren becoming Chief Minister.
Now, some pertinent questions arise. After the election result is declared on March 10, in the event of a fractured mandate where not a single party gets at least 31 seats in the 60-Member Manipur Legislative Assembly:
Will the Governor of Manipur La Ganesan invite the single largest party to form the new government and give the opportunity to show its strength in the house within a stipulated time?
Will the Governor respect and invite a post-poll alliance which has at least 31 members?
Will the Governor wait for another alliance to come up if the single largest party is not the BJP?
Will the Governor following the footsteps of former Governor Najma Heptulla give an opportunity the BJP to form a coalition government like in 2017 if it can collect MLAs irrespective of party affiliations to reach at least 31 members?
In the event of a fractured mandate where not a single party reaches 31 members, the role of Manipur Governor La Ganesan, who was a Pracharak in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and National Secretary and National Vice President of BJP before becoming the President of Tamil Nadu State Unit of BJP who replaced the former union minister Najma Heptulla as a Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh, will be very crucial in the formation of a new government in Manipur on or before March 19, 2022.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics