The BJP’s Rise to Power in Manipur is a Result of the State’s Complex Political Landscape, Not Hindutva Politics

16 March 2017
N Biren Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party was sworn in as the chief minister of Manipur on 15 March 2017, ending the 15-year tenure of Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress government, and marking BJP's first government in the state.
Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images
N Biren Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party was sworn in as the chief minister of Manipur on 15 March 2017, ending the 15-year tenure of Okram Ibobi Singh-led Congress government, and marking BJP's first government in the state.
Biju Boro/AFP/Getty Images

In the recently concluded Manipur assembly election, the Congress won 28 of the 60 assembly seats to become the single-largest party in the state, followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which won 21 seats. By the evening of 12 March 2017—the day after the election results were announced—the BJP had the support of the National People’s Party and Naga People’s Front, which won four seats each, and that of the Lok Janshakti Party, Trinamool Congress and one independent member, with one seat each. On 13 March, Najma Heptullah, the state’s governor, asked the Congress’s Okram Ibobi Singh, the incumbent chief minister, to submit his resignation, and invited the BJP-led coalition to form the government and prove their majority on the floor of the house “as soon as possible.” Though he is yet to prove his majority, two days later, N Biren Singh took oath as the new chief minister of Manipur—marking the end of Ibobi’s 15-year tenure, and the start of the BJP’s first-ever rule in the state.

The BJP’s vote share in Manipur increased from two percent in 2012, to 36 percent in 2017. The Congress’s vote share was 35 percent. Manipur comprises 16 districts—ten of which are in the hill regions of the state and six in the valley. Of its 60 constituencies, 40 are in the valley districts, and the remaining in the hill districts. The hill districts are dominated by two of the state’s tribal communities—the Nagas and the Kukis—whereas the Meitei community dominates the valley districts. The prevailing political situation in Manipur leading up to the elections—with an ongoing economic blockade on two national highways and conflicts between the dominant communities—provides an explanation for the BJP’s rise to power in the state.

Manipur went to polls reeling under the effects of an economic blockade that began on 1 November 2016. The United Naga Council, a civil-society organisation of the Naga community of Manipur, enforced the blockade in protest against a state government proposal to create new districts in the Sadar Hills and Jiribam regions in the state.  The blockade did not deter the Ibobi-led government, which announced the creation of seven new districts, carved out of the existing nine, in December 2016.

Richard Kamei is a doctoral candidate at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai.

Keywords: Manipur Ethnic tension state elections Assembly Election 2017 economic blockade
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