Moirang (Manipur): Still not open to public officially after it was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the INA Memorial here, where the flag of the Indian National Army was first unfurled on April 14, 1944, has been drawing “VIP visitors” and political workers who pay floral tributes before they go on campaign trails.

Away from national capital Delhi where the 125th birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose created a buzz in January, people at the main market of this small town, which is just a few metres away from the INA Memorial, are busy juggling between earning a living and participating in election activities, with little time to celebrate the iconic freedom fighter.

Development and welfare of youth and women top the wishlist of the voters, who feel that Moirang constituency in Manipur has fallen behind despite having a rich cultural heritage and excellent tourism potential.

“This election is not about voting for a party. It is about supporting who will bring development, especially infrastructure such as roads, to Moirang. I feel sad that our constituency has fallen behind over the years in terms of development,” said Longjam Ongbi Ibemcha, a fruit vendor at the market here.

A mother of three, supporting their higher studies outside Manipur, she said, “People must also vote for that candidate who would bring about the welfare of youth and women.”

Expressing similar views, Moirangthem Prabha, who sells clothes in the market, said, “The past records of the candidates are a good indicator. I would choose mine based on who has done the maximum work, especially for women here at the market.”

Recollecting the days when there was no proper infrastructure in the market and women vendors had to struggle during the rainy season, she said, “Now at least we don’t worry about leaking roofs but the market has to develop.”

Asked if the steps taken by the Centre to honour Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose such as the plan to install his statue at India Gate would have an impact on their decision, Ibemcha said, “We do appreciate the significance of INA Memorial but this election is about our welfare.”

Agreeing with her, L Bankimchandra, who drives an electric autorickshaw said, “I have never been inside the memorial but I do appreciate its significance. It is one of the reasons that the outside world can recognise Moirang but when it comes to voting, we have to choose who would work for us, our development.”

Moirang constituency goes to polls on February 28 and will witness a three-cornered fight between BJP, Congress and National People’s Party. Sitting MLA Pukhrem Sharatchandra Singh, who won on BJP ticket in the last term, is contesting as a Congress candidate this time, while former Congress member Mairembam Prithviraj Singh is the BJP candidate, with Thongam Shanti Singh of National People’s Party as the third candidate in the fray.

At the INA Memorial, a contract worker who asked not to be identified, said the landmark itself needs attention and is desperate for proper care.

“There is no one to look after the garden and take care of the plants right now. We don’t have enough people to keep the museum, the library and other structures neat and clean,” said the man who serves as guide at the museum apart from selling tickets and cleaning the premises.

As for the elections, he said, “It is difficult to say who will win, but I have seen people belonging to different political parties coming here at the memorial and paying floral tributes before starting their campaign rallies. As a worker here, it does feel nice when people do such things.”

Officially, the memorial is not yet open to the public after it was closed due to the pandemic, he said adding, “Yes, VIPs from outside, especially those in forces who happen to be here, come and request to see the museum. Emotionally, it is difficult to say no to them.”

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