Two weeks to LS poll: No political rallies, posters in strife-torn Manipur

There are no restrictions from the Election Commission on campaigning, says CEO Pradeep Jha

An Election Commission hoarding in Manipur (photo: PTI)
An Election Commission hoarding in Manipur (photo: PTI)


Posters of political parties, mega rallies, and visible movement of leaders — the traditional elements of campaigning — are conspicuously missing in violence-hit Manipur, where polling for Lok Sabha elections is due in less than two weeks.

The only visible hint of the impending elections is the hoardings put up by local election authorities, urging citizens to exercise their franchise. Amid the muted election fervour, major party figures have refrained from visiting the conflict-ridden state to canvas for votes or make electoral pledges.

While the BJP has enlisted prominent figures like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah as star campaigners, the Congress lineup includes Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and other key leaders. However, none of them have made an appearance in Manipur yet.

Though the Election Commission of Manipur maintained that there are no official restrictions on campaigning activities, party representatives emphasised the need for subdued campaigning to avoid aggravating the delicate situation in the state.

"There are no restrictions from the Election Commission's side on campaigning. Anything that is within the boundaries of the model code of conduct is allowed," Manipur's chief electoral officer Pradeep Jha told PTI.

To tackle the tricky situation, the candidates — the BJP's Thounaojam Basanta Kumar Singh, Congress' Angomcha Bimol Akoijam, the Republican Party of India's Maheshwar Thounaojam and Rajmukar Somendro Singh, who is backed by the Manipur Peoples' Party (MPP) — have come up with a unique solution.

They are reaching out to voters in a non-conventional way, which includes holding meetings at their residences or party offices and having their supporters indulge in door-to-door campaigns.

"It would have been better had I addressed public meetings and held rallies, but I have decided to keep the campaign low-key," Thounaojam, who has deployed teams of volunteers for door-to-door campaigning, said. "The voters know the importance of their vote in the current situation and will make an informed choice."

Basanta Kumar Singh, the incumbent education and law minister, who is contesting the Lok Sabha polls this time, is holding small meetings at his residence and the party office. Similarly, Akoijam, a professor in Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, mostly meets people at his residence.

Posters of Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra and those seeking voters for Akoijam have also been put up at the Congress office in Imphal.

"Elections are important for us, but we cannot rub salt in people's wounds with pomp and show. Elections are also like a festival, but we cannot celebrate the festival in a loud manner because of the current situation," BJP Manipur president A. Sharda Devi told PTI. "People are living away from their homes; we want them to have faith in us, but we are not campaigning.".

A senior state government official asserted that any kind of loud campaign could be detrimental to the law and order situation in the state. "Though the situation seems to be under control at the moment, any kind of loud campaign can be detrimental to the law and order of the state, and no party wants to take that risk," the official said, requesting anonymity.

At least 219 people have been killed in the ethnic strife in the state that started on 3 May last year after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. A majority of over 50,000 internally displaced people are currently staying in relief centres across five valley districts and three hill districts.

Scheduled in two phases on 19 and 26 April, the Lok Sabha elections in Manipur have garnered attention for voting arrangements for displaced populations. Special polling stations will be set up in relief camps to enable these people to cast their votes.

While the relief camps provide voting opportunities, candidates are yet to visit these facilities, where residents await resolution and peace amidst the prevailing unrest.

"Some workers from parties have come once or twice, but none of the candidates. If they come, they will get to see in what situation we are living in the camps, with no sight of a resolution or peace in the state," said Dima, a mother of two living in a relief camp in the Kwakeithem area inhabited by Meiteis.

Meanwhile, a similar lack of election activity is evident in regions like Moreh and Churachandpur, where Kuki communities predominate. Some Kuki factions and societal groups have even called for a boycott of the polls.

Despite the semblance of normalcy in Meitei-inhabited Imphal Valley, with businesses and institutions reopening, the pervasive presence of security forces underscores the lingering tensions and challenges the populace faces.

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