Sonia boost for man who could be CM

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By KHELEN THOKCHOM in Imphal
  • Published 15.02.07
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Imphal, Feb. 15: He brought Sonia Gandhi to Tamenglong district to reassure voters that Congress leaders — both in Delhi and Manipur — care for them. Sonia struck a chord with the large crowd at Khoupum, promising rapid development.

Gaikhangam’s challenge is to convert the show of support into votes. But that is easier said than done considering the fact that the PCC president has a strong rival in university professor-turned-politician Gangmumei Kamei in Nungba constituency. The former minister is contesting the seat as an Independent candidate. What makes the contest even more interesting is that both have defeated one another before.

Elected on Congress ticket for the first time in 1980, Gaikhangam is representing this constituency for the fourth time. He lost to Kamei in the 1995 and 2000 polls.

Gaikhangam and chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh have never been on good terms, and the rift widened after he became the PCC chief. There have been occasions when Congress workers have complained that the duo run two power centres.

If elected, and provided the Congress forms the next government, Gaikhangam will be a strong contender for the post of chief minister. On the other hand, reports suggest that the United Naga Council (UNC)’s choice for the Nungba seat is Kamei despite not being in the list of 11 “approved” by the influential organisation.

Gaikhangam has refrained from directly criticising the “diktat” issued by the UNC that Nagas should only vote for the “consensus candidate”.

“This diktat is nothing new. It has been going on for the past many years and we are immune to threats and intimidation now,” the Congress leader said.

There are two more candidates in the fray — Khamkhogin Thangjom (Lok Jana Sakti) and Sangamlung (Independent).The constituency has 21,047 voters. Unlike in the valley and other hill constituencies, signs of campaigning are not visible in the Naga-dominated districts.

Participants in a rally in the district headquarters a few days ago demanded free and fair elections. The overwhelming opinion was that voters should be allowed to vote without intimidation by any individual or organisation.For the Congress, Sonia’s recent visit was a morale-booster.

“Sonia confirmed what we have always been saying. Only the UPA government at the Centre and the Congress government in Manipur can provide stability and development,” one of Gaikhangam’s aides said.

Tamenglong district has three constituencies, all of which will go to polls in the final phase on February 14 along with Chandel, another Naga-dominated district, and Churachandpur district.