Imphal: The local body polls in Manipur on January 11 are viewed here as a keen fight between the ruling Congress and the BJP which last month opened its account in the assembly by winning two byelections.
The outcome of the election for 18 Municipal Councils and eight Nagar Panchayats will have a direct bearing on the Assembly elections in March 2017.
The Congress, with 47 members in the 60-seat Manipur assembly, has been in power in the state for three consecutive terms.
The local bodies going to polls on January 11 correspond to 40 assembly segments in the four valley districts of Manipur.
Altogether 279 councillors for the Municipal Council and Nagar Panchayat Wards and 558 Ward Development Committee Members would be elected.
BJP’s win in Thangmeiband and Thongju assembly byelections has heated up the state’s politics, making the Congress feel challenged and worried ahead of polling on January 11.
“In a democracy, we should honour the verdict of the people. Time has come for the Congress workers to do some introspection as to why the party has distanced itself from the people,” said Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh.
Ibobi Singh said the people had taught the leaders a lesson by electing other candidates in the by-elections, but the Congress was still on track to winning a majority in the local body elections.
However, lack of confidence among Congress leaders is quite evident. The party is not contesting all the local bodies’ seats.
Deputy Chief Minister and PCC president Gaikhangam Gangmei put on a brave face, saying there was no “(Narendra) Modi wave” in the state.
“Most of the politicians in Manipur are turncoats; they all used to be in the Congress. All the chief ministers in the state were from the Congress. We have been in power for almost 14 years and the party will form the next government.”
The BJP national leaders, however, have their own plans for the state.
BJP president Amit Shah has extended the term of state party chief Thounaojam Chaoba Singh who was to retire in November. This was obviously done to allow Chaoba Singh to quarterback electioneering in the upcoming local body polls.
There was much heartburn following the entry of former chief ministers and ministers into the BJP. Reports indicate that Chaoba Singh was not amused since some of these new members were the ones likely to soon try to elbow him out.
He was conspicuous by his absence from the felicitation function to welcome the entry into the BJP of former chief ministers R.K. Dorendra Singh and Radhabinod Koijam.
“The byelection results showed that money and muscle power could not influence the people,” said Chaoba Singh.
“The BJP shall come to power and will root out corruption. All corruption charges against the Congress government shall be probed and the guilty suitably punished,” he added.
Ibobi Singh has hit back saying that in a small state like Manipur, people know who was corrupt and who was not.
Some reports said the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) had started looking into the Rs.400 crore “scam” in clearing water hyacinths in the Loktak lake. The probe has been promised by Chaoba Singh and some BJP national leaders.
L. Bhagaton, the project director of Loktak Development Authority, has denied that there was any inquiry against the authority.
Khumukcham Joykishan, who won the Thangmeiband byelection, has upped the ante, accusing all ministers of the Congress government of being corrupt, targeting Social Welfare Minister Akoijam Mirabai Devi in particular.
Joykishan has accused Mirabai Devi of committing a breach of legislature’s privilege by giving a false reply to a question he had asked in 2012 in the assembly about some malpractices.
“Mirabai Devi misled the assembly. If she can prove otherwise I shall retire from politics. If not, she should accept the challenge and retire from politics.”
There has been no rejoinder yet from the minister.
The gradual change in political climate is already discernible in some northeastern states and Manipur is no exception, political observers aver.
Ibobi had in fact recently admitted publicly that in view of the political developments he was having sleepless nights.