Gearing up for LS polls amid unrest Setting the agenda

Unarguably the biggest festival of the indigenous Meitei people, Ningol Chakkouba was given the go by in 2023 amid the ongoing ethnic clash between the Meiteis and the Kukis-qualified by the terms illegal immigrants and militants. Christmas was a muted affair with many Churches in Imphal  cancelling the dos usually associated with the festival such as Christmas trees, Stars being put up at private residences of many including the non-Christians, no Christmas carols, in fact a quiet affair it was with the Christmas Church service winding up with prayers for peace and normalcy to return. Go back a little earlier than December 25, 2023 and Diwali was again muted, with no decorative lights adorning the shops and houses, as is the practise in other years. In fact Manipur turned its back on all festivities to show solidarity with those killed, made to disappear, displaced and surviving in different relief centres and the same state of affairs continues. It is against this backdrop that different political parties are gearing up for the coming Lok Sabha elections, for which notification is expected to be issued anytime on one of the coming days. Manipur will go to polls for sure, but it will be something far removed from the slogan coined by The Times of India some time back, ‘Dance of Democracy.’ There will be no dance but yet at the same time the coming Lok Sabha election has elicited a sort of interests not seen in the previous election years-certainly not in 2019, 2014, 2009 or 2004. At the moment all eyes are on the big two-the BJP and the Congress-and names are already flying thick and fast and this is more so in the case of the Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency. As things stand at the moment, four personalities are in the race for the Congress ticket in Inner Manipur Parliamentary Constituency while there is just one for the Outer Constituency. As for the BJP, nothing is as yet forthcoming giving more room for speculations to do the round and in a way adding to the interests being kicked up by the dust of the pre-poll fever. Early days yet but as far as the Inner Constituency is concerned, the ongoing ethnic clash and the  issues associated with it, such as the ‘misguided’ understanding given to the clubbing of districts as hill districts or valley districts,  the existence of a ‘mini Assembly’ within the Manipur Legislative Assembly in the form of the Hill Area Committee, a point so succinctly brought forth by one of the intending Congress candidates in the Inner seat, the provision/s that prohibit/s the Meiteis from settling in the hills of Manipur while the valley which comprises only 10 or less percent of the total geographical size of Manipur is free for anyone to settle, are issues which the people would want an open debate on to see where the candidate and the political party he or she represents stand.
Much will also depend on how the two political parties have responded to the ongoing ethnic clash. As the party in power at New Delhi and Imphal, the BJP may be hard pressed to answer or explain why Prime Minister Narendra Modi has thus far preferred to remain silent on the ongoing clash, a silence that many have come to interpret as being indifferent. Remains to be seen how this may be blunted by the positive moves that New Delhi under the BJP has taken for Manipur such as the extension of the Inner Line Permit System, the suspension of the Free Movement Regime on the Indo-Myanmar border, the promise to fence the border, the suspension of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in many areas across Manipur, the correct narratives that have been championed by magazines or publications which are understood to come under the right wing umbrella but be sure the seeming indifference of the Prime Minister to the disaster that has gripped Manipur for the last 10 months is a ghost that the saffron party will be hard pressed to exorcise. These are some likely points that may emerge as the poll activities intensify in the coming days, but what marks out the coming Lok Sabha election is the kind of interests it has evoked. One hopes that enough lessons have been learnt from the past, for example the last Parliamentary elections that have been mentioned earlier, and the people lay down the agenda for the election. Tell the candidates what it is that the people want and not rest satisfied with just hearing what they intend to do once elected. Manipur has been living under the ‘lie’ of ‘will do if elected’ for too long and it is time for the voters to lay down the agenda.