Home » Complicated case of musical chairs; The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidates’ list for the upcoming Assembly elections in Manipur has elicited widespread defections

Complicated case of musical chairs; The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidates’ list for the upcoming Assembly elections in Manipur has elicited widespread defections

by Rinku Khumukcham
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By – Yambem Laba
Tensions were high among Manipuris in general and sup-porters of the Bharatiya Janata Party in particular as they awaited announcement of the names of the 60 candidates who would be contesting elections to the 12th Manipur Legislative Assembly, scheduled in two phases on 27 February and 3 March this year.
The BJP authorities were perhaps aware that there would be disappointment among those who did not make the mark. As a precautionary measure, the party closed its headquarters in Imphal, deployed heavy security comprising Central Reserve Police Force troops and the Fire Brigade was also put on alert. The closure began on 29 January.
The announcement was not made in the state capital Imphal but from New Delhi and by 3 p.m. on 30 January, details of the candidate list were all over Manipur. It includes 10 former Congress Party leaders who recently defected to the BJP.
The list has the name of R K Imo Singh, Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh’s son-in-law and son of former Union minister and state chief minister late R K Jaichandra Singh, from the urban Sagolband Assembly constituency. S S Olish is also set to contest for the BJP from Chandel. That said, Biren Singh’s younger brother N Boy Singh did not get a party ticket from the Khundrakpam Assembly constituency.
The flash point, however, was the denial of a ticket to the sitting BJP MLA from Kakching, M Rameshwar Singh. Instead Y Surchandra Singh, who had recently been disqualified by the Speaker of the Manipur Legislative Assembly and joined the BJP from the Congress Party just about two weeks ago, has been given the nod from Kakching. The constituency, whose majority population belongs to the Scheduled Caste category, is the most industrious and organised region of Manipur. There were widespread protests and thousands of members of the BJP, especially cadres belonging to various frontal organisations, tendered their resignations en masse.
The same sentiment was echoed in the Sagolband constituency. In 2017, the BJP had fielded Kh Loken Singh -he was first elected to the Assembly on a Congress Party ticket in 2007 but was denied the oldest party’s ticket last time. R K Imo Singh had been given the Congress Party ticket in 2017 from Sagolband and Loken Singh fought the elections on a BJP ticket but he narrowly lost thanks to the postal ballots. This time, after defecting to the BJP, Imo Singh has got the saffron party’s ticket. Loken Singh’s supporters took to the streets and made a bonfire of BJP flags and festoons.
But the worst reaction to the BJP’s candidate list was from the Lilong Assembly constituency. The intending candidate and his supporters had struggled hard for the last five years to establish the BJP in an area which is a predominantly minority-dominated one. The party’s ticket, however, has been given to Y Antas Khan, who was earlier elected from the seat as an Independent during a by-election. In protest, a cow was purportedly slaughtered on a BJP flag and it is believed that the police have taken into custody two of those involved in the act.
Such developments apart, Ningthoujam Biren Singh, a former legislator and minister first elected on a Congress Party ticket almost 30 years ago, had joined the BJP 10 years ago. He was denied a BJP ticket in the last elections but told that he would be given a political post. After the same happened this time, he has gone back to the Congress Party, which has given him a ticket.
Ningthoujam Biren Singh also spoke to the media alleging that he was asked to cough up Rs 50 lakh to get a BJP ticket. Similar complaints poured in from various quarters to the extent that crores of rupees seem to have been amassed.
The BJP’s list of 60 candidates also includes quite a few with criminal backgrounds. Okram Henry Singh, earlier elected on a Congress Party ticket and nephew of former Congress Party CM Okram Ibobi Singh, later changed sides to the BJP. He was a minister in CM Biren Singh’s Cabinet till his election was declared null and void by the Manipur High Court. He is also one of the main accused in what is now known as the “airport drugs case” and has been since charge-sheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Next in line is Yamthong Haokip who was under the National Investigation Agency’s scanner and is currently out on bail in the case relating to the theft of 9mm pistols from the armory of the 2nd Battalion Manipur Rifles.
The BJP list of candidates has turned into a windfall for Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), which was a party that existed only in name in Manipur. Those who have missed the BJP bus have made a beeline for the JD-U this time. Foremost among them are two sitting MLAs, namely Khumukcham Joykishan from the urban Thangmeiband Assembly constituency and Md Assafuddin from Jiribam bordering Cachar district in Assam.
The new faces in the JD-U are led by firebrand super cop Thounaojam Brinda. Next to her is former director general of Manipur Police, L M Khaute who took voluntary retirement in November last year. Among the former ministers to join the JD-U are Ksh Biren, Samuel Zindai and Loken Singh, and former chief secretary Oinam Nabakishore. The JD-U have since announced the names of 30 candidates.
Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party saw four candidates being elected during the last elections. It became a partner to the BJP along with the Naga Peoples’ Front, which had also returned four seats. Initial calculations were that a possible combination of the Congress Party and NPP could be forged to challenge the BJP’s claim of getting an absolute majority and forming a government of their own.
The NPF, which has put up candidates for 10 seats, also seems to have made the mistake of choosing people without the approval of Hebron. The Congress Party has already named 40 candidates while the NPP has announced 33 names so far, which include many new entrants from the BJP also.
The rush for a BJP ticket stems from the assumption that getting one immediately assures a berth in the Assembly and that is where the selection process could have gone wrong. The question is which party will emerge as the single largest among the BJP, Congress Party, NPP and now, the JD-U. In all probability though, Manipur seems to be headed for a hung verdict when results are declared on 10 March.
(***The writer is the Imphal-based Special representative of The Statesman)


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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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