Imphal: The high-octane Assembly election in Manipur reaches a climactic stage on Saturday as the poll caravan climbs most of the state’s hilly areas and rolls on to the valleys in Thoubal district, with 22 seats up for grabs in the second and final phase of the electoral contest.
Thirty-eight constituencies in the 60-member House had gone to the hustings in round one on February 28. Ninety-two candidates, including two women, were in the fray in six election districts of Senapati, Jiribam, Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Chandel and Thoubal, as polling on the morrow would stretch to the border town of Moreh – considered the Gateway of India in the East – and its surrounding villages.
The phase two polls are taking place in a geographical area considered the stronghold of the opposition Congress party which won 12 of these seats five years ago. The Naga People’s Front (NPF) had won four, BJP claimed three, the National People’s Party got two while an independent also emerged victorious in the previous Assembly elections.
With campaign drums falling silent at 4 pm on Thursday, the candidates and workers were now busy preparing for the poll. The Manipur hills, mostly inhabited by Naga, Kuki and other tribes who follow the Christian faith, was never a forte of the state’s ruling BJP, but this time the saffron party is in the race in all the 22 seats.
A total of 847400 voters including 428958 women, 418401 men and 31 transgenders are eligible to exercise their franchise in the election spanning 1238 polling stations.
Okram Ibobi Singh, the longest-serving Congress Chief Minister of Manipur who ruled for three consecutive terms, is eyeing his fourth straight win from Thoubal. Throwing a challenge to the veteran politician is Leitanthem Basanta Singh of the BJP, who lost out to Ibobi in 2017.
Thoubal district, where there are ten constituencies, has a strong Congress base as it elected eight candidates of the party in the last elections. The other two seats were won by BJP.
This time, the BJP and the Congress are likely to be the main combatants in all the seats of the district. In Heirok, BJP has fielded a heavyweight, state Education MinisterThokchom Radheshyam Singh, who is up against three candidates, including former state Congress President M Okendro.
In Khangabok, O Surjakumar, son of O Ibobi, will be trying to retain his seat for Congress. Jiribam, represented by an Independent, Ashabuddin will see a fight between four candidates.
Chandel district, which elected a Congress and an NPP candidate in the last election, will also witness interesting fights between Congress, NPP, BJP and other candidates.
The district is key to India’s Act East policy as Moreh, the famous border trade town is located in the area. Ukhrul, the land of the beautiful Siroy Lily flower, the birthplace of another long-serving Chief Minister of Manipur Rishang Keishing, elected two NPF and one Congress MLA in the last elections.
The NPF, Congress and BJP are among the principal contenders. Senapati, which has the only road-worthy highway in the state, had elected one Congress, NPP and NPF candidate last time and this time the battle will be joined by the BJP.
Tamenglong, known for its oranges and the ambitious Railway project, was the only district where BJP had won a seat in the Manipur hills in the last elections.
The other two seats went to Congress and NPF. The battleground is almost similar this time also. The Northeastern state is known for high voter turnouts, and the first phase polls were no exception. Despite a slow polling process, the state had recorded 88.63 percent polling.
The terrain for the second day is challenging and most polling officials have started reaching their stations. Air support is vital due to poor road conditions and difficult terrain.
Most of the Electronic Voting Machines were being transported by air. Special arrangements were also made for any emergency by parking helicopters at Imphal. UNI