Imphal: Campaign for the upcoming two-phase Manipur Assembly polls is picking up across the Northeastern state, with roads, water and the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) emerging as the main issues.
A host of political leaders from elsewhere in the country have descended on Manipur to drum up support for their party candidates in the polls scheduled to be held on February 28 and March 5.
All principal contenders – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress, National People’s Party, Janata Dal(United) and Naga People’s Front – are pulling out all stops to woo an electorate of over two million who are entitled to exercise their democratic choice in 2968 polling stations spread across 60 constituencies. Several Union Ministers like Rajnath Singh, Kiren Rijiju, RK Ranjan and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma have joined the election campaign on behalf of the BJP.
Jairam Ramesh, Bhakta Charan Das and other central leaders are canvassing for Congress candidates, while the NPP roped in Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma to give a push to the party’s drive for votes.
Traditionally, the election campaign in Manipur starts with the unfurling of party flags by the candidates at their houses and it becomes a show of strength as their supporters bring food, vegetables, rice etc as a mark of support to the nominees. Flag unfurling ceremonies began for most candidates on Monday and BJP central leaders air dashed to Manipur to take part in the ceremonies.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh, who is working hard to usher in yet another BJP-led government in the state, said giving a dignified and secured life to the people of the state are the main issues. Biren said five years back he was shocked to see people living in extreme poverty and unable to get medical treatment. But as Chief Minister, he focused on building houses for the homeless and providing health schemes to the poor, Biren said.
“There was a time when there was an air of uncertainty and people were afraid to even move out of their houses as they feared for their lives. But this has changed now,” he added. Deputy Chief Minister Y Joykumar, who is trying to retain his Uripok seat as an NPP nominee, promised to work for repeal of AFSPA, besides striving for empowering the youth and women.
JD(U) candidate for Thangmeiband constituency Khumukcham Joykisan said proper roads and water supply were the main concerns of the people. Joykisan, who has represented Thangmeiband for three consecutive terms, said the electorate should choose those who can fight and serve the people of the constituency in the true sense. Former Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, who is vying for victory as a Congress contestant from Thoubal seat, said the people should get full benefits of government schemes through direct fund transfer.
Transparency, ease of governance, proper administrative set up in all districts including the establishment of hospitals, widening of roads were all ensured during Congress rule, but have not been followed up by the present government. Keisham Ramani, who does business in the Imphal women market, said people want to live a dignified life and repeal the AFSPA “as anybody can be killed on mere suspicion by troops”. “People need proper roads in the state and only during election times the roads are repaired by the candidates and the government,” she said.
Rajkumar Sanatomba, who leads the famed music group Rhythms of Manipur, said AFSPA has always been the discussion point in every election, but this time around the main issue is the demand for inclusion of Meitei in the list of Scheduled Tribes. Most political parties have supported the demand for the inclusion of Meitei as ST so that all people in the state can leave in harmony.