The 10th Manipur Assembly elections have brought back the Indian National Congress with a thumping majority despite exit poll predictions of a hung assembly and of party expectations. The results have proved otherwise and it will remain one of the most memorable elections in recent times. For the first time in Manipur’s electoral history since statehood in 1972, Congress crossed the magic figure of 30 and achieved absolute majority in the 60-member Manipur Legislative Assembly. It was only in the 1984 and 2007 assembly elections that the party had been able to reach the figure 30. In 2002, Congress party was able to return only 20, but it formed the first SPF government with CPI and some other parties. In the process, it gobbled up smaller parties like the MSCP and DRPP, and it was able to perform better in 2007. Perhaps, this is one of the main reasons for projection of a minus 30 figure in the 2012 assembly elections by exit polls and poll pundits. Internal dissension within the party was also one of the factors for the projection.
Dissension reached newer heights with senior minister Yumkham Erabot openly speaking out against the policies of the Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. The main challenge against sitting MLA Yumkham Erabot came from Okram Henry of Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP), a nephew of the CM. In fact, MSCP was considered the B-Team of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi, a fallback in case he loses some crucial support in the incoming Congress Legislature Party (CLP). In the pre-poll scenario, this internal dissension was linked to Congress party’s prospects in the 2012 elections and not on a resurgent opposition.
Opposition politics has been on the wane since Okram Ibobi Singh came to power in 2002. In this election, we have seen the demise of veteran politicians like former Chief Minister Radhabinod Koijam of NCP, veteran Opposition leader Okram Joy and former Union Minister Th Chaoba Singh of the Manipur Peoples Party (MPP). This is primarily the fault of the opposition parties themselves. The changing dynamics of power politics in the state has reduced members of the opposition to mere spectators, unable to assert its existence. Over and above its failure to play the role of a responsible opposition in and outside the Manipur Legislative Assembly, it could not set an agenda or pose a viable alternative to the Congress in the just concluded assembly elections. The once powerful regional party MPP simply vanished, with some of its MLAs leaving the party and joining the Congress bandwagon and others. The Communist Party of India (CPI), a major partner in the two SPF governments drew blank in 2012. The BJP has not been able make a re-entry in Manipur since its exit in 2007 elections. Whatever be their ideologies both regional and national, we lament their exit of these once powerful parties and veterans from Manipur politics. Veteran leaders were there in the past two assemblies, albeit their lackluster performance in and outside the assembly. The last minute efforts of MPP and CPI to botch up a post-poll alliance and an alternative to the Congress turned out to be a damp squib with both parties failing to open an account. Their attempt to build bridges with the Naga Peoples Front will remain a blot in the coming years. In the 10th Manipur Assembly, we will certainly be missing a spirited opposition. This is indeed the beginning of a sad chapter in Manipur politics. Another tragedy in the recent elections is the entry of Thekedars in the guise of social workers cum politicians. This reflects the absence of a political culture and the influence of money in Manipur politics.