Manipur Elections 2017: The polls are billed as a major test for the Congress government.
As Manipur gets ready for the first of the two-phase Assembly election on Saturday, voting for 38 seats out of 60 will pave the way for the new government in the northeastern state. From Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally to BJP president Amit Shah's door-to-door campaign, the party is trying its best to replicate its sweep of Assam election last year. On the other hand, the election is billed as a major test for the Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress government which has been in power in the state for the last 15 years. Thursday was the last day of campaigning for the first phase of the polls.
This has been a hectic poll season for Manipur with many star campaigners addressing multiple rallies. There were bitter exchanges between the Congress and the BJP over the ongoing economic blockade in the state and the Naga Peace Accord.
In the last 15 years of Ibobi Singh's rule, the state has seen many twists and turns. Frequent shutdowns and blockades have put the economic growth in the slow lane. The last week witnessed protests by youth and students asking PM Modi to make the details of the 2015 Framework Agreement public.
"Before the election, they make lot of promises. But once they win, they don't work," said Sanatombi Devi, an Imphal resident.
Is BJP an alternative? Will it usher in the much-needed change? Voters aren't sure.
"The Congress party is not communal like BJP... we know Congress would not compromise with the Nagas and will safeguard integrity of the state," said Md Abdur Ali, resident of Lilong.
But poll arithmetic in Manipur is not that simple. Ethnic equations play a big role.
Meiteis form a major chunk of voters in 40 seats, Nagas in 20, Kukis and 30 other tribes are also decisive. The Congress split Naga-majority areas to create seven new districts. The Nagas protested the move. The centre's Framework Agreement with Nagaland's former insurgent group NSCN(IM) remains a key issue as Meities fear Manipur may lose their land to a probable Nagalim or umbrella Naga state.
While the Nagas accuse Congress of divisive politics, the Kukis don't want a rollback of the creation of new districts.
"If there is a rollback of the decision, the Kukis might hold protests," said S Kipgen, Kuki youth leader.
The second phase of the Assembly polls is scheduled on March 8 and the results will be declared on March 11.