Feb. 10: Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s second round of campaigning in Manipur is facing rough weather, with the controversy over candidates contesting the Assembly polls in Naga-dominated constituencies taking a turn for the worse.
The withdrawal of Congress candidate S.T. Kohring Anal’s nomination from Naga-dominated Chandel constituency this week, ostensibly because of threats from the NSCN (I-M), has severely dented the party’s image on the eve of Sonia’s visit.
Adding to the crisis, the United Naga Council (UNC) today reiterated its threat to “restrict” electioneering by all candidates other than those it has chosen to support. The UNC today asked “rival” candidates to withdraw from the race for the third phase of polls slated for February 23. There are fears that the tension spawned by the UNC diktat could escalate into full-fledged clashes, particularly in Tamenglong district.
The Congress, which had prided itself on fielding candidates for all 60 Assembly constituencies in the strife-torn state, has been embarrassed.
Sitting BJP legislator from Chandel, B.D. Behring, has also withdrawn his nomination.
“Intimidation by the NSCN (I-M) prompted us to take the decision and the only candidate left is the proxy candidate supported by the UNC,” said state PCC president and party candidate from Nungba, Gaikhangam.
Gaikhangam said the party had written to the Election Commission and apprised the Centre of the situation. A BJP leader in Imphal echoed his allegations.
The NSCN (I-M) has denied the charges. UNC president Paul Leo said he had no knowledge of withdrawal of nominations by BJP and Congress candidates. According to him, the Congress was facing a stiff challenge from the resurgent Manipur People’s Party, the oldest regional party in the state.
The UNC, spearheading the campaign for the integration of Naga-inhabited areas, has fielded 11 candidates in the four Naga-dominated districts of Manipur — Ukhrul, Chandel, Senapati and Tamenglong.
“The UNC’s reminder has sparked resentment among supporters of other candidates in Tamenglong. Clashes could erupt if the situation continues,” a source said.
“There are apprehensions among workers of candidates opposed to the UNC that they could be targeted by the council’s supporters. The district administration should take preventive measures to prevent any poll-related violence,” the source added.