The BJP is set to form the government in Manipur for a second straight term, having won a majority on its own in the two-phase Assembly polls.
The BJP on Thursday emerged as the single-largest party in the northeastern state with 32 seats, one more than simple majority in the 60-member House. The National People’s Party (NPP) finished with seven seats, the Janata Dal United (JDU) six, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) and the Congress five each and the Kuki People’s Alliance two. Independents won three seats.
In 2017, the BJP, NPP and the NPF had won 21, 4 and 4 seats, respectively, while the Congress had bagged 28. The Congress, however, could not form the government as the BJP secured the support of the NPP, NPF, Trinamul, LJP and an Independent.
Manipur chief minister Biren Singh, who won Heingang for the fifth straight time, told The Telegraph that the BJP would form the government on its own but the NPF would be part of the new dispensation. Together, the parties have a clear majority (32+5=37).
“The Independent MLAs have also approached us,” Singh said, thanking the people of Manipur for a “mandate for peace and development”.
He attributed the BJP’s good showing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mantra of “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka viswas aur sabka prayas, which Singh said his government had tried to “implement” from top to bottom and from valley to the hills.
“People believed in Modiji’s mantra and voted for us,” Singh said, adding that the party’s go-it-alone strategy also infused the rank and file with confidence.
The vote shares of the BJP, NPP and the NPF have increased over 2017’s figures.
NPF secretary general A. Kikon said the final call would be taken after discussions with its elected members but they were not averse to working with any political party. “Our relationship with the BJP is still intact and we are hopeful of working together in the future...,” Kikon said.
The result will help Singh, a footballer turned journalist turned politician, to consolidate his position. He was the one who had aggressively pushed the go-it-alone line to do away with the pulls and pressures of running a coalition government.
There were revolts from aspiring BJP candidates after they were denied tickets, but Singh, who joined the BJP from the Congress in 2016, had said before the first phase of the polls that he had settled the differences in 14 of the 16 “difficult” seats. The BJP had fielded 12 former Congress MLAs in the elections.
One reason for the BJP’s performance was its peace and development plank. The party had highlighted how bandhs and blockades, which were frequent during Congress rule, had affected life.
Also, voters seem to have chosen the BJP because it runs the government at the Centre too, considering that Manipur is largely dependent on central funding. BJP leaders effectively played up the benefits of having a “double-engine” government.
The BJP government’s efforts to mitigate the sufferings of the common man during the Covid-induced lockdown, too, played a role in its victory.
The Opposition Congress’s inability to put up a fight following large-scale defections to the BJP made the ruling party’s job easier. Twelve Congress MLAs switched to the BJP, including its then state president Govindas Konthoujam, and some to the JDU.
Many believe that two umbrella organisations of Kuki militant groups under suspension of operations openly extending support to the BJP days ahead of the first phase of polling also impacted the outcome in the hills that have 20 seats. The BJP denied having anything to do with the groups’ move.
Although the Congress tried to reach out to “like-minded” parties like the NPP and the JDU to keep the BJP at bay once the trends started emerging on Thursday, the move fizzled out soon as it did not have the numbers to mount a challenge.
Congress veteran and former chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh won the Thoubal Assembly seat for the seventh straight term, but several senior leaders lost, including Gaikhangam and incumbent Manipur unit chief N. Loken Singh.
Another prominent leader to have lost was incumbent deputy chief minister Yumnam Joykumar Singh of the NPP, who was a vocal critic of chief minister Biren Singh. Two more sitting ministers lost the polls.
State Congress vice-president K. Devabrata Singh said the party accepted the verdict.