It was hardly afternoon, and amid a sunny day emerged a cheerful N Biren Singh, with a smile to rival the best toothpaste ads. Criticised by many, questioned by many more, and put in a spot by his party members, Singh had endured a tough period, yet, as he emerged with his winning certificate, his happiness knew no bounds. It was only one seat, but his emphatic victory with a margin of over 17,000 votes against a familiar rival heralded a good start, and, as the day progressed, it only got better.
At one point, around 11 am, the BJP was leading in seven seats, the Congress in five. And that was the closest the Grand Old Party would ever come to bulldozing saffron: as the BJP marched ahead, the Congress was left wondering what could have been. Mind you, by the end of the day, the Congress was thinking the same at a national level.
But we will return to Manipur.
One might say the writing was on the wall for the Congress, ever since 2017. A party bereft of confidence, power, and real leadership, Congress resembled a political party less, and more the final semester of an institute where students eagerly wait for the ideal placement. How else do you explain Govindas Kanthoujam, a party president appointed during a crisis, quitting the party and joining the very party that caused a crisis in the Congress?
Kanthoujam was not the first, he was not the last, and the Congress continues to remain clueless. And no amount of Ima Keithel visits by Rahul Gandhi will change that. On YouTube, sure, people will watch, but standing in line, ready to vote, they couldn’t care less about Gandhi, Congress, and their future.
Let us also not forget, AFSPA and Congress are inseparable in Manipur. All the massacres, extra-judicial killings and the resulting pain took place during the Congress, not the BJP reign. Sure, Biren Singh was part of the same party then, but now he is not. Such was the Congress’ support for AFSPA that the anger against the party extended not only to the Valley but also in the Hills.
A visible CM is a successful CM
Biren Singh is a lot of things, and visible is one of them. From tweeting religiously every day–whether it is to thank PM Modi for something or congratulate a sportsperson bringing laurels to the state–Singh is forever visible, always on the front foot and never shy of expressing himself. He has been the master of launching projects: from Go to Hills, launching new infrastructure projects in the new districts, to even inaugurating every ambulance and oxygen plant during the COVID crisis, Singh has been present everywhere.
His ascension to the top has left many old timers bitter, and none come to mind as quickly as Chongtham Bijoy Singh, who was expelled from the BJP for six years for calling ally NPP a parasite (and they are, of course, no longer allies).
Bijoy Singh held nothing back in his criticism and spoke at length about how the BJP had been overtaken by “immigrants”. Yet, Biren Singh endured and today, he, not Bijoy, will sleep happily. Biren Singh has single-handedly ensured that the BJP has space for any and every political leader who can prove their mettle.
Thank you, NPP, but no thank you
The Manipur election results are yet to be compiled and post-poll alliances will not become the hot topic of discussion until tomorrow, but if the words of the Manipur Chief Minister are anything to go by, they are unlikely to ally with the National People’s Party.
Soon after collecting his winning certificate, Singh said the BJP would talk with ‘like minded’ parties for a post-poll alliance, and that an alliance with NPP is unlikely.
Singh’s statement comes in line with the ever-deteriorating relationships between the NPP and BJP, who were allies until a few months ago. From Meghalaya CM and NPP Chief Conrad Sangma saying that it was very challenging to work with the BJP to Deputy CM Joykumar Singh criticising the party, it was clear that the NPP was trying hard to mark its path and it made its stance clear when it decided to fight on 40 seats, which finally came down to 38.
In simple terms, the NPP made it clear that they were not going to play second fiddle to the BJP, and that they would take on the BJP head-on. This was also a strong statement by Sangma, who remains an ally of the BJP at the centre and in Meghalaya, of their dissent against the state BJP unit.
Sangma had ruffled political feathers across the nation by bringing BJP and Congress MLAs together under the Meghalaya Democratic Alliance (MDA), much to the chagrin of both the parties’ state units. Sangma knows that as Northeast India’s national-level party, it cannot sit comfortably in a cocoon in Meghalaya; and Manipur was its first substantial foray outside their comfort zone.
That said, Manipur BJP, and in particular, N Biren Singh, were unlikely to forget this criticism, especially when NPP played along as the ally for five years. The BJP, which has already won 15 seats and is leading on 14 at the time of filing this report, will also be buoyed by its ally, the Janata Dal-United performance. The party, at the time of filing this report, had won five seats and was leading on one.
Should the BJP need allies, the JDU and the NPF (which was also an ally in the Biren Singh government) would only be happy to oblige. In short, Biren Singh and Manipur BJP look like they will be spoilt for choice, and in such circumstances, the NPP is not worth considering.
Everyone wins except Congress
It would be an exaggeration to say that Manipuris look up to Bihar as a role model state and Nitish Kumar as the ideal leader. Yet, while the NPP fell flat on its face, the JDU did relatively well: at the time of filing this report, the JDU, which had yet to open its account, had won 5 seats. And this, despite the defeat of their most popular and only female candidate, Brinda Thounaojam.
The Kuki People’s Alliance’s strike rate resembled a batsman playing a T20 match: two seats contested, two won: Saikul in Kangpokpi district and Singhat in Churachandpur district. The party sought a fill of void: no party for Kukis of Manipur, and its idea has paid off handsomely. While two seats may not get them much bargaining power, it is still better than zero, and a good start.
For now, one can safely say that whatever Manipur’s future might hold, the Congress may not have much of a role to play in it. And they can only blame themselves and the party leadership (at least what remains) for this. No amount of Ima Keithel videos on YouTube will cover the rot within the grand old party.
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