The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in Manipur aims to increase its members in the state legislative assembly from 21 tally of 2017 to 40 out of the total 60 seats in the upcoming polls due early next year.  

Even as the BJP did not get absolute single majority in the last election held in March 2017, the party led the coalition government with support from the National People’s Party (the NPP) the Naga People’s Front (the NPF) and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). The single majority Indian National Congress with 28 elected MLAs sits in the opposition bench. A former Congress man, who joined BJP in 2016, Nongthombam Biren Singh led the first-ever BJP government in Manipur.    

The newly formed BJP-led coalition government has 21 legislators of BJP, 4 of NPP, 4 of NPF, one of LJP, one of Congress (who defected to BJP immediately after the election result and is presently disqualified by Supreme Court) and another controversial independent MLA. While all four NPP MLAs were given cabinet portfolios in the government, only one from the NPF and the lone LJP MLA could make it to the list of ministers in the Biren Singh-led coalition Government in 2017. The cabinet in 2017 has only 2 BJP MLAs. 

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BJP’s tally, however, began to increase as the new government took off. Within a year, the MLAs began to make a bee-line in joining the new government, most significantly the Congress MLAs. 

The present ruling coalition government is a complicated one. The number game or mathematical calculation is extremely confusing. The exact number of BJP MLAs or Congress or other parties in the present state assembly of Manipur is a difficult one to comprehend.

Bye-Polls were held in 5 Assembly constituencies in 2020. Of these four seats went to BJP and one to an independent candidate. While 7 Assembly seats remain vacant until now, bye-election were not conducted in these constituencies. 

12 MLAs who were appointed as parliamentary secretaries face disqualification on grounds of holding the office of profit. In the most recent events, the Supreme Court ruled that the case cannot remain pending and that the Governor must not further delay the decision anymore. 

In June 2020, coalition partner NPP pulled out of the government, but were back in the government after the intervention from the party high command within no time. 

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Rebels arose among the BJP. In 2019, works minister and a few other BJP ministers demanded that CM Biren Singh be removed. With intervention from Delhi, Biren Singh retained his chief ministership. Thereafter, the Manipur cabinet was re-shuffled — 5 BJP, 1 LJP, and 2 NPP ministers were removed and new ministers were inducted.   

Towards the end of the current term in 2021, the BJP-led coalition government has 6 BJP MLAs, and 2 each from NPP and NPF as cabinet ministers in the coalition. Except for the eight MLAs of the NPP and NPF, the number of MLAs from each party is unclear. The BJP claimed to have a majority of more than 30 in the present Assembly. The Congress is reportedly reduced to 20 from 28 MLAs. 

With the next election just about four months at hand, campaigns have picked up across the state. 

National party big-wigs and regional party leaders have already made visits to the state. Many such celebrity leaders are expected in the near future as polling draws closer. A lot has been happening already – party meetings, strategizing, planning. Sitting MLAs and aspiring candidates are touring and visiting their respective constituencies making public appearances etc. 

The 40-seat target was announced by union minister and BJP in-charge of Manipur elections Bhupendra Yadav in September this year. He stated that BJP will win over two-thirds majority in the upcoming 2022 Manipur Assembly election, “since the people have seen the party deliver on its promises and for consistency and continuity, and therefore will vote for the party”.

National People’s Party (NPP) chief Conrad Sangma who also visited Manipur to chalk out election strategy and stated there will be no pre-poll alliance with the BJP. The party is preparing to contest in 30 constituencies. In the 2017 election, the party filed candidatures from 20 seats. 

Former Congress MLA RK Imo Singh joins the BJP. File photo

Meanwhile, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) filed 15 candidatures in the last election. The party that currently has 4 MLAs is gearing up to target 10 seats in the upcoming election. Secretary-general of NPF-central Achumbemo Kikon did not make any pre-poll alliance statement on his Manipur visit. 

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For sitting MLAs, including opposition and intending candidates, a BJP ticket is on top of the wish list. The second is NPP. It is, however, popular understanding now that only those who could not make it to the BJP list would go for the second option, NPP. In the Naga areas, it would be the Naga People’s Front (NPF), which will also be the first choice for a good number of candidates in Naga-dominated areas. 

The number two option has its own reasons. In the current assembly, all the four MLAs of the NPP and one of the NPF could make it to the list of cabinet ministers. Being a relatively young party, their performance is noteworthy. Thus, making it a viable alternative to the BJP for aspiring candidates. 

In regard to the top choice – a BJP party ticket – several politicians and elected representatives from other parties have been joining the bandwagon, especially members from Congress and other regional parties. 

The shifting to the BJP started ever since the new government led by BJP came to power in 2017. The phenomenon is glaring as the election is approaching. Given the option or the offer, it is likely that all MLAs would leave their present political party and switch over to the BJP. Of course, with few exceptions, such as a staunch NPF MLA or an old Congress party man.

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Meanwhile, the Indian National Congress is still relevant in Manipur. The grand old party has an influence in a state like Manipur where a “national” party is always preferred over a “state or a regional” party, for obvious reasons.

In a state like Manipur, the ruling national party in Delhi is what all politicians, aspiring politicians, and election candidates dream of. Voters, too, look up to those candidates who have a “national party” ticket. The advantage for the candidate is that he/she has a “national tag” and, most importantly, party support in terms of resources, both human and financial as the election expenditures are huge and increase election after election. For voters, a financially lacking candidate and no connection with a national party (read Delhi) is definitely not an attraction. Besides resources, if a national party (say for instance the INC) comes to power in the Centre, the state eventually follows. 

Candidate list of parties like Trinamool Congress (TMC), Communist Party of India, the Lok Jan Sakti Party (LJP) or the Janata Dal, and others usually do not go beyond a few numbers – mostly in the one-digit figures. This does not seem likely to change in the upcoming election too. 

Manipur’s next election 2022 extravaganza appears to be all well for the BJP. It is a good start for the BJP as the tide is in favour of the saffron party. 

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The trend of the early election wave indicates the BJP will get an absolute majority. There is no doubt that the BJP will increase their MLAs from the previous election. And with the blessings from the central government, the present scenario shows that the BJP-led government has the advantage. And the next government shows the possibility of a non-coalition or a single majority party rule in Manipur.

Five years of BJP has not fatigued the general public. The new hopes and expectations from the first-ever BJP government in Manipur still remain with the larger populace. The hope is for the upcoming next five years.  

Nevertheless, four months is a long time in politics. There can be many slips between the cup and the lip. The current trend in the rush for a BJP ticket and attempts to get admission into the party fold can be worrisome. Can the BJP manage the huge influx? Will this create a chaotic dilemma? Will the BJP be able to accommodate them all and their expectations? Will the chief minister’s post itself be in crisis with several political heavyweights coming in? 

Not to forget that alliance partners NPP and NPF are expected to perform much better than in the previous election. 

The author is a freelance journalist based in Imphal. Views are personal.

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