Parties facing ethnic issues ahead of LS polls in violence-hit Manipur

Imphal: As the Election Commission readies to conduct elections to the two Lok Sabha seats in Manipur, the political parties here are grappling with ethnic issues to decide their strategies because of the over 10-month long ethnic violence between the non-tribal Meitei and the tribal Kuki-Zomi communities.

Though Manipur has 34 different communities, the non-tribal Meitei and the tribal Kuki-Zomi and Naga people dominate the state’s politics and other electoral aspects.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the valley areas comprising six districts while the Nagas, Kuki-Zomi constitute a little over 40 per cent and reside in the remaining 10 mountainous districts.

Even as the Election Commission will issue the statutory notifications in two days (on March 20), the major political parties including the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress are yet to declare their candidates.

Political pundit Rajkumar Kalyanjit Singh observed that in view of the ethnic violence, the political parties have to consider the permutation-combination of the prevailing complex ethnic situation in the violence ravaged state.

“Political parties in Manipur have to give balanced consideration in selecting candidates and formulating election related strategies,” Singh told IANS.

Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Education Rajkumar Ranjan Singh of the ruling BJP won from the Inner Manipur seat in 2019 while Naga People’s Front (NPF) leader Lorho S Pfoze represents the Outer Manipur constituency.

The BJP’s senior most state vice-president Nongthombam Nimbus Singh said the party has already formed a state level election management committee to take up the overall task for the polls.

“The committee has 32 different departments and each department will take the onus to smoothen the assigned tasks. Besides the committee, all members of the party numbering over four lakh have begun work at the booth level across the state,” said Nimbus Singh.

Once the party’s central election committee in New Delhi announces the names of the candidates for the state, the statewide campaign would be rolled out for which everything is in place, he pointed out.

On the other hand, the opposition Congress has a different say, as its state vice-president and spokesperson Kh Debabrata Singh said that their first demand was to defer the election taking into account the unceasing ethnic violence.

“Our request is to bring a solution first and polls next. Though election is mandatory, the climate for the polls at this juncture is not conducive,” he said, adding that as the poll dates have been announced, “we have to participate in it.”

The Election Commission has decided to hold the election in Inner Manipur constituency on April 19 while polling would be held in the Outer Manipur seat (reserved for the tribals) in two phases on April 19 and April 26.

Meanwhile, even as the Communist Party of India (CPI) is a partner in the 10 ‘like-minded’ parties’ alliance in Manipur led by the Congress, the Left party on Saturday nominated Laishram Sotinkumar as its candidate from the Inner Manipur Lok Sabha constituency.

A CPI leader said that the party’s national executive meeting held on March 14 decided to field Sotinkumar, a former state council secretary, from the Inner Manipur Lok Sabha seat.

A veteran Left leader, Sotinkumar, who is currently serving as the General Secretary of the AITUC in Manipur, said that his party would extend full support to the Congress candidate in the Outer Manipur seat.

“We may reconsider contesting the Lok Sabha elections if normalcy and peace are not restored in the state,” the Left leader said.

Besides the Congress and the CPI, the other parties part of the alliance are the Aam Aadmi Party, Trinamool Congress, CPI-M, Forward Bloc, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Shiv Sena-UBT, Janata Dal-United and the Nationalist Congress Party.

A Congress leader slammed the CPI for their unilateral announcement of the candidate and said that it will divide the anti-BJP opposition votes.

In Manipur, a total of 20,26,623 voters, including 10,46,706, women, are eligible to cast their votes in 2955 polling stations in the state’s two Lok Sabha seats.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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