Stage set for decisive polls

              WITH the last date for withdrawal of candidature ending on Monday and 200 candidates remaining in the fray for the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly elections, the stage is finally set for the crucial polls, which many consider will see a bitter contest amongst established political parties as well as newly floated entities. Predicting outcome of the latest democratic exercise, which will be conducted on March 4 and 8 to select representatives from 60 assembly constituencies of the state, will not be an easy task as voters in Manipur do not always give their mandate on the basis of the candidates’ political affiliations but also accord equal weightage to the qualification, prospect of winning and social works. Ahead of formally joining electoral politics, politically ambitious individuals make it a point to showcase to the public that similar to established politicians they too have firm resolve to work for the welfare of the society through their pro-active involvement in repairing the drainage system of the locality, forming self-help groups for improving the local economy, bringing out heavy machinery or extending monetary assistance to the local youths for dredging clogged drains when monsoon rains inundate residential pockets, etc. For political rookies, many of whom include wealthy contractors and former bureaucrats, these activities are seen as a means to hog the limelight, build their support base and gear themselves up to launch their political innings.

             While many expect the upcoming polls to be a slugfest between the ruling Congress party and the BJP, which is in power at the centre, there are also many political heavyweights who would be battling it out under the symbol and flag of different political organisations, such as CPI, CPI-M, AITC, NCP, NPP and numerous regional and state level parties. Once considered a force to reckon with in Manipur politics, CPI and CPI-M would be fighting the elections to regain lost ground in the state as both have not been able to make their presence felt in the state assembly in the last few terms. The on-going insurgency and ethnic driven conflict seem to have taken a heavy toll on the communist parties of Manipur, which believe in the ideology of class struggle. The intention of CPI and CPI-M to make a comeback in the political scenario could be assuaged from these two parties along with other secular and like-minded parties forming the Left and Democratic Front (LDF), a pre-poll alliance that is fielding candidates for 50 seats in the 60-member Manipur Assembly. For the record, CPI with five seats in its kitty had played a major role in the ascension of Congress to power in 2002 led by Okram Ibobi Singh. While there are newly floated political organisations, which are also in the race, right activist Irom Sharmila making her electoral debut in the polls is also adding spice to the high-octane electioneering, particularly by her unique style of campaigning on bicycle on a regular basis in Thoubal assembly constituency, which is over 20 kilometres away from the state capital.

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