Congress downfall in Manipur began five years back

N Satyajeet Imphal, Mar 11 : The country’s grand old party Congress came up with its worst electoral performance in Manipur in the just-concluded Assembly polls. With only five seats in its kitty, the Congress finished way behind the BJP and even trailed the National People’s Party, and the Janata Dal ( ted). The scenario is far removed from the Assembly polls five years back, when the Congress had won 28 seats, just three short of the magic number to form the government. It was a decent performance for a party fighting an election with the baggage of anti-incumbency after 15 years of nterrupted rule. But the wheels of fortune started turning against the party even before the swearing-in ceremony of the elected members in 2017. The first exodus took place with its MLA Th Shyamkumar Singh helping N Biren Singh to form the first BJP government even though it had just 21 seats. Shyamkumar was offered a Cabinet berth. N Biren, who was a key Cabinet member of the Ibobi Singh-led Congress government between 2003 and 2012, took away the Congress MLAs one after another. Even the State Congress President Govindas joined the saffron party. Congress gradually witnessed the desertion of 16 legislators, mostly to the BJP. A desperate Congress tried to secure its ground by handing over power to the young guns. Ibobi, Gaikhangam, a tall Naga leader, Haokip, the undisputed leader of the Kukis, all considered the old guards of the party, gave up all organisational posts and handed them over to M Okendro, a former Congress minister from Thoubal district. After a brief stint as state party President, he passed the baton to Govindas, to consolidate the Congress’ strength in Manipur, particularly in Bishenpur district. Govindas did the unthinkable. He crossed over to the BJP. Congress then tried to resurrect its sagging fortunes by appointing N Loken, another lawmaker from Bishenpur district, as state party chief. But in the end, all these permutations and combinations came to naught in the polls this year. To understand the Congress’ marginalisation, one has to study the results of the Imphal West and Imphal East districts, considered the epicentre of Manipur politics. The party is now represented by only a few MLAs in the two districts. Imphal East saw the return of the sitting MLA, N Lokeshwor while two strong candidates of Imphal West, Ak Mirabai and I Hemochandra lost the battle. In the hills, Congress could not compete with the BJP politics of working with the majority Naga and Kuki tribes. A grant of Rs 15.70 crore and an additional amount of Rs 92.65 lakh prior to the elections was handed to the Kuki militants under Suspension of Order (SOO) by the government and on Home Minister Amit Shah’s repeated assurances to resolve the Kuki problem were seemingly key factors for the Kukis voting for the BJP, according to Congress leaders. The Congress knocked on the doors of the Election Commission alleging the grants violated the model code of conduct, but the poll panel said the money was approved before the elections. Congress’ senior Observer for Manipur Jairam Ramesh said the party will seek justice in the Supreme Court. Congress leaders confided that the luring of elected members could not be stopped as it was never expected. All previous elections were held without the presence of central leaders but as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Shah and BJP Chief J P Nadda visited the state repeatedly, the Congress also decided to depute some party leaders in Manipur. Former on Ministers Jairam Ramesh and Bhakta Charan Das camped at Imphal during the elections, while some other senior party leaders rushed in before the announcement of results, to create a ring of defence around the newly elected legislators. The presence of several on Ministers of BJP in Manipur, besides a large number of BJP and RSS functionaries and the opening of the party’s IT Cell to start a campaign in social media, proved vital in the run-up to the elections, a Congress leader confided. The Congress found it hard to keep up with the pace of the BJP campaign of completely filling the pages of Manipur newspapers with party advertisements and converting all billboards in every nook and corner with the faces of BJP leaders. It helped the BJP win 32 seats. “Most leaders of all other political parties in Manipur started their political career in the Congress. But many of them jumped the wagons within a few years. This needs to be checked and attempts should be made to know why they left the party,” another leader said. Ibobi, the Congress strongman from Thoubal district, could not even stop his nephew O Henry from joining the BJP. However, Thoubal gave a respectable verdict to Congress, which won four seats from the district. The Congress has been wiped out from all its strongholds,except Thoubal and Imphal East, and the party for the first time will be sitting as a small opposition party in the State Assembly. NS SSP RN

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