Testing time for Ibobi & Co
One development which even the politically naïve person could have noticed in the ceaseless blame-game between leaders of the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in the run-up to the state assembly elections, is the growing discord between the Central and the state governments. Among others the economic blockade by the United Naga Council, signing of the framework agreement between the Centre and the NSCN-IM and allegations of financial irregularities against the state government are some issues which the political parties have been trying to rake up with the ultimate aim of gaining the upper hand and keep the voters on their side. With almost every central party leaders of the BJP joining the election campaign for its candidates, it gives a clear message about the determination of the saffron party to replace the incumbent Congress government. Unlike other politically sensitive states where outrageous remarks against leaders of political organisations either spark violent retaliatory acts by ardent party workers or create high tension between the rival organisations, Manipur fortunately seems to have been spared from such unwanted poll-related skirmishes as the people appear to be more inclined in adopting the wait and watch attitude. That the BJP is hell bent on adopting all possible means to capture power in Manipur could be assuaged from BJP leaders directing their tirades towards O Ibobi Singh, even going to the extent of branding him as the ‘10 per cent’ chief minister.
With none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi joining the mud-slinging game and blending his Langjing Achouba ground election meeting speech with the contentions that the Congress government has been misleading the people on the framework agreement, corruption has multiplied manifold during the 15-year rule of the Congress party, state government has failed to end the blockade on the two lifelines, etc., Ibobi seems to have been put in a tight corner in the on-going slugfest for wresting power in the state. After the clarifications issued by the Union home minister Rajnath Singh and his junior minister Kiren Rijiju that the framework agreement will not affect the territorial integrity of Manipur, Prime Minister Modi accusing the Congress government of misinterpreting the peace accord signed with the Naga rebel group to project the BJP-led Central government in poor light might be to dilute the campaign being launched by civil society and student’s organisations to seek details of the framework agreement. Though the UNC’s economic blockade was the core issue in the initial phase of the election campaigning, the framework agreement seems to have taken centre-stage at the juncture. For chief minister Ibobi, the 11th Manipur Legislative Assembly election appears to be the toughest test of his political career as there were then no serious challenges from BJP or other political parties during his three stints as the CM since 2002. In case the Congress party still manages to neutralise the BJP onslaughts and emerges unscathed to retain power, then Ibobi will not only have the last laugh but will have an opportunity to turn the tables on his detractors. However, if BJP forms the next government in Manipur then the incumbent chief minister and his ministerial colleagues are likely to face even more torrid time.