Not quite the final countdown The issues at stake

The countdown has begun. Well not exactly, for the BJP, which is one of the Big 2, is yet to announce the name of its candidate for the Inner Parliamentary Consti- tuency. So far only the Indian National Congress and the CPI have announced the names of the candidates for the Inner seat in the person of Angomcha Bimol Akoijam of the Congress and Laishram Sotinkumar of the CPI. In the hills, the BJP has decided to support the Naga People’s Front candidate Kachui Timothy Zimik while the Congress has named K Alfred, a former MLA. Understandably the focus of many is on the BJP, for it is in power at Imphal and Delhi as well and the prognosis is, the fight in the Inner seat will be largely between the Congress and the BJP while in the Outer it has decided to back the NPF candidate. In the hills too, the poll equation is still hazy for no one seems to know what the Kuki-Zo community will come up with in the next couple of days and none can write off the distinct possibility of some throwing in their hats as Independent candidates. If one goes according to what the grapevine says, those who were in contention for the NPF ticket but did not pass muster may throw in their hat as Independent candidate/s while another strong contender who had solidly stood for the BJP may also enter the electoral fray given that the saffron party has decided to support the NPF candidate in the Outer Parliamentary Constituency. This is the likely development in the next couple of  days before March 27 and once a clear picture emerges, such as the number of candidates, the tribe to which they belong, the place where they stay etc, the countdown in the Outer Parliamentary Consti- tuency can really start. It is more or less the same in the Inner seat and once the BJP announces its candidate, expect the leikai experts and others to start the election calculation. Apart from the public perception of the candidate, other factors which will impact on the voting behaviour of the people will obviously include the ongoing ethnic clash between the Meiteis and the Kuki-Zo community, the deafening silence of the Prime Minister even though the clash is now over 10 months, the manner in which the BJP led Government at Imphal has dealt with the crisis, the emergence of numerous power centres, the fact the Meiteis have been cocooned in the valley for over 10 months while no Kuki would dare to step in the valley districts etc. These are points which the Congress will seek to highlight and apart from putting all its acts together to  neutralise this narrative, the BJP can be expected to highlight the suspension of the Free Movement Regime along the Indo-Myanmar border, the announcement that the Indo-Myanmar border would be fenced along with the claim that trouble erupted after the BJP led Government decided to crack down on large scale infiltration into Protected and Reserved Forest in the hills, its crackdown on poppy plantations under the War on Drugs slogan etc.
In naming Prof Bimol Akoijam as its candidate, the Congress has chosen a non- professional politician, though each and every voter can be said to be a politician, and as the Professor said straight on his arrival at Bir Tikendrajit Airport on March 24 the voter and the candidate are two sides of the same coin for one cannot exist without the other. A good start one may say and it remains to be seen who the BJP names as its candidate to offset the goodwill generated by the Congress in the choice of its candidate. Early days yet, but as stated in earlier commentaries here, the election this time will be crucial, very crucial for Manipur and it will be a sort of a referendum on the performance of the BJP led Government in the face of the ongoing ethnic clash in Manipur. Already selective campaigns have been held to blunt the ‘culture of vote money’ and merry making to buy votes for if the last 10 months is any indication, many seem to have come around to the idea that what Manipur needs today is someone who can present the case of the people and the place effectively not only in Parliament but before the whole country and the world at large. The Lok Sabha election is the right time for the people to exercise their voting rights carefully and diligently and not be lured by easy money. The stake is Manipur.