Manipur elections: JD(U) banks on Nitish’s image and defectors to make inroads
Though the party is primarily Bihar-centric, JD(U) isn’t entirely new to politics in the northeast. In the 2000 Manipur assembly elections, the party had won one seat. It, however, failed to replicate that win in successive elections and did not field any candidate in 2017.
In October last year, Janata Dal (United) shifted its state office in Manipur from its earlier location in Imphal to a bigger building in Tiddim Road — one of the important arteries of the state capital.
The new office, spread over two floors, wears a busy look these days with party workers and office bearers gathering pamphlets, flags and other materials for the upcoming assembly elections in the northeastern state.
Not in the reckoning till a few weeks back, things have changed for the JD(U), a constituent of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government at the Centre. Now armed with rebels from other parties and with candidates in 38 of the total 60 seats, the Nitish Kumar-led party plans to turn things around.
“It’s not as if JD(U) emerged in the political scenario of Manipur just ahead of assembly polls. Our state unit has been active for the past few years. Many have the impression we are new because the party had decided against contesting the elections in Manipur five years ago,” JD(U) national general secretary in-charge of northeast, Afaque Ahmed Khan, said.
“We are contesting this election in Manipur on the plank of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s good governance and clean image. People have seen how he transformed Bihar. We are very hopeful that Manipur’s voters, who are educated and aware, would give us a chance to replicate that kind of governance in the state,” he added.
Though the party is primarily Bihar-centric, JD(U) isn’t entirely new to politics in the northeast. In the 2000 Manipur assembly polls, the party had won one seat. It, however, failed to replicate that win in successive elections and did not field any candidate in 2017.
In neighbouring Nagaland, the JD(U) had won three seats in 2003 and one seat in 2013. In 2018, the party won one seat, but the MLA, who was a minister in the state government, switched over to the ruling Nationalist Democratic Political Party (NDPP), which is supported by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
JD(U) had won seven of the 15 seats it contested in the Arunachal Pradesh assembly polls in 2019, becoming the second largest party after the BJP, which secured 41 seats. But in 2020, six of the seven JD(U) MLAs switched sides to the ruling BJP.
This time, the JD(U) had a pleasant surprise in Manipur after a dozen sitting and former MLAs from BJP and Congress joined it. Prominent faces from the saffron party who switched sides included Ksh Biren Singh, former chief secretary O Nabakishore and former DGP LM Khaute.
Congress leaders who joined the JD(U) included Kh Joykishan Singh, Mohammed Abdul Nasir (both winners in 2017) and former Congress vice-president Dwijamani. Ahsab Uddin, who won as an Independent in 2017 from Jiribam, is also a JD(U) candidate this time.
Another prominent face is Th Brinda, the party’s lone woman candidate. The decorated cop, who is known for her drive against illegal drugs, quit her job to contest the election on a JD(U) ticket.
“There was no inducement from our side or conditions imposed on those who joined us from other parties. They decided to join us because of our proven track record of good governance and clean image,” Khan said.
“We are confident of winning around 10-12 seats, which could even reach 20 seats. Our party doesn’t have any pre-poll understanding with anyone, including the BJP, and we are open to a post-poll alliance. JD(U) would act as a pressure group and go along with those who work for the people of Manipur,” he added.
That possibility would cheer the Congress camp. In 2017, despite winning 28 seats, Congress couldn’t form alliances and reach the figure of 31 to form the government. On the other hand, BJP, which bagged 21 seats, managed to come to power by forging alliances with National Peoples’ Party (NPP), Naga Peoples’ Front (NPF) and others.
“It appears that those who failed to secure BJP tickets joined the JD(U) as they expect the alliance both parties have at the Centre and in Bihar would continue in Manipur as well. But in reality, the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar is not in the best of terms and could even break. We think, JD(U) may win just one or two seats, not more,” Congress media in-charge Kh Devabrata Singh said.
In its manifesto released last week, JD(U) promised to support the people of Manipur in their demand to scrap the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), bring all active insurgent groups to peace talks and hold the pending autonomous district council elections within six months.
The party assured 50% reservation to women in gram panchayats, zilla parishads and autonomous district councils, 35% reservation to women in state government jobs and 33% seats in professional colleges like medical and engineering colleges for girls.
“JD(U) will most likely cut into BJP votes. If they win any seat, it would be those which BJP would have won. If the BJP-JD(U) combine get any majority together, it would be the same majority which BJP might have got on its own. There’s no clarity on how many seats JD(U) would win, but I believe their first option would be to side with the BJP,” senior journalist Pradip Phanjoubam said.