As India kicks off its largest and most extraordinary election this week, the northeastern state of Manipur goes to polls for the first phase in Outer Parliamentary seat (hill districts) on April 16 and for the second phase elections on April 22 in Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency (valley districts).
Seven candidates are in fray for the prestigious Inner Manipur parliamentary constituency while nine candidates will fight for the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat.
Prominent candidates from Inner constituency (valley district) are former Union Minister of State for Sports Th Chaoba of Manipur People`s Party, former Chief Minister W Nipamacha who is representing BJP, former Manipur Veterinary Minister and M Nara (CPI) and sitting Congress MP T Meinya.
BJP candidate Loli Adanee, who is hopeful of winning the seat, Thangso Baite of Congress and sitting MP and PDA nominee Charenamei, and Manipur Democratic Alliance (MDA), NCP combine fielded candidate L B Sona are the main contenders for the Outer constituency.
Voicing on various local issues at the campaign, all the parties pledged to fulfill the aspirations of the people. Some of the main issues topping the agendas are Territorial Integrity, Greater Nagaland, Development, Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), etc.
The Naga groups in adjoining Nagaland, demand for a ‘Greater Nagaland’ by carving off parts of neighbouring states like Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh that have extensive Naga population. The move was favoured by the United Naga Council (UNC), the apex body of the Nagas in Manipur, but the Meiteis are opposed to any breakup of their state.
Sitting MP Mani Cheranamei (People`s Democratic Alliance) in his public meetings, had stressed on Naga integration as he urged the people to extend their vote. He also said the integration of Naga-settled areas even at the cost of disintegration of Manipur`s boundaries would solve most problems faced by tribals in the region.
Meanwhile, AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi on his campaign to the state in Churachandpur district, said that Congress will not compromise with Manipur`s territorial integrity at any cost. Bashing up at the young Congress leader, the All Naga Students` Association, Manipur (ANSAM) advised him to consult his senior leaders before speaking about the matters that concern Naga issues. The NSCN-IM also slammed the AICC general secretary for the comments.
The controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), an anti-terror law aimed at quelling insurgency is a key poll issue for every political parties, with demands for its repeal from the state.
The act, which is enforced in large parts of Manipur, Tripura, Assam and Nagaland and some parts of other northeastern states, provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot on sight and arrest anybody without a warrant.
Irom Chanu Sharmila, 37, ‘’the Iron lady of Manipur’’, has been on an indefinite hunger strike against the act from November 2000 after soldiers of the paramilitary Assam Rifles allegedly killed 10 Manipuri youths on suspicion that they were militants.
Sharmila is released every year for a day or two before the courts convict her on charges of “attempted suicide. While Sharmila holds that her fast is the best means of protest and insists she is not a “suicide monger”. For eight years, she has not consumed anything from her mouth, but, force-fed through a tube in her nose.
For the BJP nominee Loli Adanee, his main priorities are emphasized on peace and development. Loly said that if voted to power, he will takes up works on infrastructural development in the state to boost the economic activities. His other memos include forestation, availing banking facilities to the hill people, opening of FM radio services in the remote area and enforcement of Six Schedule in the hill areas of the state. Besides, he also stressed on the road connectivity for the hill districts, and removal of the Armed Forces Special powers Act 1958.
The sitting MP Charenamei has been accused of misusing public money allotted to implement welfare programmes for the tribal people.
With their manifesto focuses on the spirit of live and let live for all communities, no matter big or small, living in the state with equal rights and dignity, the state unit of NCP vowed to safeguard the age-old boundaries of the trouble-torn northeastern state.
Condemning the Congress government`s failure in inaction against unlawful activities like extortion, abductions, killings and violation of ceasefire by different groups, the NCP also pledged to fight for the repeal of the controversial AFSPA.
However, the Congress is propagating that Manipur`s territorial integrity is no issue at all. "As long as the sun and the moon exist, it will remain intact," the state party chief added.
Often, Manipur surfaced as a disturbed area due to the prevailing situations erupted by different insurgency groups. The killing of VIPs, non-Manipuri speaking people, and enmity among the different outfits has turned the state into a bloodbath. Appealing to the people to vote in her support, Valley Rose Hungyo, an independent candidate and editor of a daily Newspaper stressed on building up a peaceful society.
She also brings up the issue on illegal immigration which foresees as a threat to the north eastern region states. She has promised to work as peace ambassador to solve insurgency problems in the region particularly in Manipur through "unconditional dialogue" with all insurgency groups if voted to power.
Despite varied manifestoes and strategies, it is for the political leaders to secure peace, development and much more for the people.
Manipur being a state, where children are the victims of AFSPA, armed violence, drugs, HIV/AIDS epidemic, etc, resulted in the nasty deprivation of the rights to life, education and their other fundamental rights. The Manipur Alliance for Child Rights (MACR) and Coalition on Children’s Right to Protection (CCRP) urge the people to choose the right person so that children’s rights are fully protected.
The child rights bodies insist on increasing government expenditure on children education to 10 percent and health to 5 percent GDP and all children between the age of 6-18 years, without discrimination should be in formal, full time schools that provide quality education and also all children below six years should enjoy early childhood care and education (ECCE) Rights.