Manipur plays safe, brings Ibobi Singh back

The Congress has managed to hold on to power in Manipur for the third consecutive time.

Deepak Nagpal

Despite the militants’ blanket ban on its candidates, several attacks during the campaign, an 11-party opposition alliance and ‘perceived’ anti-incumbency, the Congress has managed to hold on to power in Manipur for the third consecutive time. And it has not just won, but secured a handsome two-thirds majority in the 60-member Assembly.

The ruling party won 42 of the 60 seats it contested. It is an emphatic victory, considering the fact that the party’s tally has gone up by 12 seats compared to last elections in 2007. The vote share too registered a jump of 8 percent, to an impressive 42 percent.

And for Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, the victory means a lot. It has not just put him in the elite league of very few Congress CMs (Tarun Gogoi and Sheila Dikshit among them) securing a hat-trick, but has also put all the talk of him being no more favourite of the Congress party to rest.

For sure, Yumkham Erabot Singh and G Gainkhangam would have to wait for another five years.

Many observers had said last year’s 121-day long blockade of two main highways – the state’s lifeline – could, among other things, prove to be a hurdle in Ibobi Singh, as well as Congress’ path to re-election. Some had, in fact, written off Ibobi Singh.

But, the Manipuri voter had something else in mind. For not just the party, the CM as well recorded a huge victory. The 61-year-old warhorse retained his Thoubal seat by defeating nearest rival from the BJP, Indira Oinam by over 15,000 votes.

The Opposition, meanwhile, suffered at the hands of the Congress. Three senior Opposition leaders - Radhabinod Koijam of the NCP, O Joy Singh and Th Chaoba Singh of Manipur Peoples Party lost to their rivals.

Koijam – the Leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly – had, in fact, played a key role in bringing together the 11 non-Congress parties under the Peoples` Democratic Alliance (PDA).

The poll blows have brought to the fore the Opposition vacuum that is there in Manipur politics.

The MPP, which had five seats in the outgoing Assembly, drew blank this time.

And the NCP, which had won four seats in 2007, had to make do with only one.

The Naga Peoples Front (NPF), which supports integration of Naga-dominated areas of Manipur with Nagaland, made a debut in Manipur this year and won three of the 12 seats it contested, on expected lines. An impressive showing could have led to territorial worries in the political circles.

Apart from the Congress, another party which surprised all is the Trinamool Congress - a member of the opposition PDA. Compared to having a sole member in the last Assembly, the TMC won seven seats this time - it contested a total 48 seats.

The only party other than the Congress which witnessed a jump in its vote share is the BJP – up 6 percent to 7. But the national party still failed to open its account like last time.

Why Ibobi Singh?

Ibobi Singh, who was criticized by one and all for his handling of the Naga-led economic blockade, managed to prove critics wrong by singing the development tune.

What also worked in Ibobi Singh’s favour is that fact that he had brought political stability to an otherwise volatile state. Prior to him, Manipur had seen very few governments lasting full term.

Throughout the campaign, he tried to connect with voters by focusing on development and peace in the insurgency-infested state. The positive campaign and his success in maintaining the territorial integrity of the state played a key role in his re-election.

Further, the Congress leader also managed to ward off criticism over his ‘failure’ to get the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act repealed from the state.

Over the past few years, it has been observed that Manipuris tend to go in for the party which is in power at the Centre, thus ensuring smooth Centre-State relations.

Manipur had recorded 82 percent turnout in the January 28 election. And such high poll percentage usually ensures either an emphatic victory or a severe drubbing. For the Congress and Ibobi Singh, it has been a happy ending. And the beginning of another five-year journey…

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