LS elections 2024 : Simmering Manipur may press NOTA

Elections for the two Lok Sabha seats in Manipur are a little over two weeks away. But there are no signs of elections, no banners, no posters, no rallies or meetings and no visible movement of party leaders here in Imphal.
Life in the Meitei-dominated Imphal Valley looks normal, with shops open, educational institutions and other activities, which remained severely affected due to the conflict between the Meiteis and the Kukis since May, resuming activities. But the presence of security forces, both army and the State police, in every nook and corner in Imphal and elsewhere suggests things are not normal even after nearly one year since the violence broke out.
"Things may look normal from the outside but people are really upset and angry over the situation," M Landhoni, a member of Meira Paibis, Manipur's most influential women vigilante group, told DH at Imphal. A group of Meira Paibis, the elderly women clad in traditional Meitei attires, sat under a shed along the road at Chingmeirong locality, less than a kilometre from Manipur Assembly. A banner that called for justice for the family of two Meitei teenagers, who were allegedly abducted by Kuki insurgents from Bishnupur in the Valley in July and were later found dead in September. They were allegedly taken to Churachandpur, a Kuki-dominated district that shares a boundary with Bishnupur.
It was around 7 pm as the Chingmeirong unit of Meira Paibis sat and discussed their plan to keep watch in the locality. "We sit here every evening to keep watch on unwanted elements who may intrude and create violence again," Landhoni, a mother of two children, aged about 45, said. When asked about elections, almost all shouted in unison, "We don't want elections now. We will press NOTA this time if the elections are forced on us in such a situation.
"People, irrespective of party affiliations, will not take part in any activities related to the elections as they are angry with how the conflict was handled. People voted for BJP in 2019 and Congress before that but all betrayed us when we plunged into crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had come seeking votes before the 2019 elections. Why is he not coming now when people are suffering?” Meenalakshmi Devi, another protester, told DH. Every locality in the Meitei-dominated Valley has a unit of the influential Meira Paibis with elderly women of each Meitei family as its part.
So will they vote for Congress? "People will either not cast their votes or press NOTA this time to show their anger. We are unhappy with all parties," she stressed. The atmosphere at Ima Keithel, the Meitei women-run market, was similar with none DH spoke in favour of the elections.   More than 200 people have died and over 60,000 others got displaced in the conflict since May last year.
Imphal falls under Inner Manipur Lok Sabha seat, where elections are scheduled on April 19. Raj Kumar Ranjan Singh, a senior leader of the ruling BJP was elected in 2019. But he also faced anger from the Meitei protesters as his house was attacked more than once amid the violence. Singh had caused embarrassment to the party when he questioned the way law and order was handled by N Biren Singh Government during the conflict with the Kukis. BJP has replaced Raj Kumar, the Union Minister of State for External Affairs, with the State Education Minister Basanta Kumar Singh as a candidate while the Opposition Congress has fielded Angomcha Bimol Akoijam, a JNU Professor, a Meitei. Maheswar Thounaojam, a young leader of the Republican Party of India (Athawale) is seen as another strong opponent.
A senior leader of All Manipur Meira Paibi Association told DH that although they did not issue any boycott call, they would appeal to people to press NOTA to express their anger with the way the Government handled the conflict and elections were "imposed."  
Arambai Tenggol diktat
Arambai Tenggol, a Meitei group, which forced 38 MLAs and two MPs in Manipur to "take oath" at the Kangla Fort here at Imphal, the seat of erstwhile Meitei kingdom, in January, issued a dikat asking all parties not to campaign, use banners, posters or any other means to woo voters towards the elections.
A senior official in the Manipur Government, who requested anonymity, told DH that the political parties must be wary of the diktat issued by the Arambai Tenggol and the call by the Meira Paibis.
"Both now enjoy the maximum clout and influence in the Valley. But people remained away from the election process even before they issued the calls," he said.
Atmosphere in hills
The atmosphere at Moreh, a border town about 110km away, where Kukis are dominant, is also similar and there are no signs of the elections.
There is no banner, no poster or any other poll-related activities and only remnants of the violence such as burnt houses, destroyed properties and crowds of the security forces welcome visitors to Moreh. Polling in Moreh, which comes under Outer Manipur Lok Sabha Constituency, is scheduled on April 19 but a major part of the hills will go for polling in the second phase on April 26.  
Moreh falls under the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha Constituency, where Nagas and Kukis are deciding factors.
The Naga People's Front (NPF) has replaced its sitting MP Lorho S Pfoze with Timothy Zimik, a retired Indian Revenue Service officer and an alumni of IIM Bangalore. The ruling BJP and its ally National People's Party also have extended support to Zimik given the dominance of the Naga voters and the anger among the Kukis. Congress and other Opposition parties have fielded former Minister Alfred K Arthur, who survived at least three gun attacks during his meetings before his name was announced as a candidate.
Meanwhile, the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, Manipur has started its online campaign urging people to cast their votes.  
                      Deccan Herald