(I have often compared Okram Ibobi Singh's politics with that of Narendra Modi. Both shrewd, ruthless and great survivors)
|Modi and Ibobi: Artful dodgers!|
(This piece was run by United News of India - UNI)
In what is being touted as a major social engineering - vis-a-vis the sensitive socio-politics of Nagas and Kukis residing in Manipur, the incumbent Congress Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh sought to throw a major political challenge to the BJP, which was banking on its newly created support base in the hill districts.
The state cabinet presided over by Chief Minister in Imphal decided to form seven new districts making it a total of 16 districts in the state.
The new districts are Tengnoupal (from Chandel), Kakching (from Thoubal), Pherjawl (from Churachandpur), Kamjong (from Ukhrul), Noney (from Tamenglong), Jiribam (from Imphal East), Kangpokpi (from Senapati).
The state government has also appointed all the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendent of Police for the new districts. Sources in Manipur Congress and also the BJP unit say both the parties have taken cognizance of the decision of the Chief Minister Ibobi Singh, who in power since 2002, this time probably could face a tough competition from the BJP.
The saffron party ever since installation of the Modi government in office in 2014 and electoral victory in Assam in May 2016 has been nurturing ambitious plans to capture power in Manipur -- a state with majority of Meitei Manipuris and various tribal groups from amongst Nagas and Kukis.
The hill districts in Manipur has 20 seats while the valleys - the stronghold of Meitei Manipuris - have the remaining 40 seats in the 60-member assembly. Traditionally, the valleys (with 40 seats) have been the strongholds of Congress and thus BJP has been trying to make inroads into the hills through Naga leaders - from Manipur as also from neighbouring Nagaland.
"But the split in hill districts would complicate the political chess board as the new districts as announced on December 9 would fulfill long pending demand of the Kukis, who always felt cornered and ignored by the Nagas in the hill districts," a senior BJP leader told UNI.
The political reading as of now suggests the newly carved districts -Tengnoupal, Kakching, Pherjawl, Kamjong (from Ukhrul), Noney, Jiribam and Kangpokpi would help the Kukis immensely.
Kukis and Nagas of Manipur - like the smaller tribes including Poumei, Ukhrul and Maran have been sharing love-hate relationship for decades and often the oneupmanship leads to violence.
The 1990s saw worst of crisis of confidence between Kukis and Nagas when the militant group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-Isak Muivah) was trying to expand its base.
"My understanding is Kukis are being appeased by Ibobi Singh and thus Kukis could en bloc back back Congress and the incumbent Chief Minister. Even if it may not be master stroke. It is definitely a sincere effort to stem the strong anti-incumbency wave," said my friend and longtime Manipur watcher Ratnadeep Gupta.
From the new districts created, demographically Kukis would be probably deciding clearly the fate of 9 assembly segments and these may in the ultimate make all the difference in the post-elections permutation and combination.
The antagonism of Manipur Chief Minister with Nagas is not new and the announcement for the new districts come comes comes in the wake of the ongoing indefinite economic blockade enforced by the United Naga Council (UNC), protesting against the creation of two districts, Sadar and Jiribam. Nagas have alleged that the new districts would encroach the ancestral land of the Nagas.
However, a communique from the Revenue Commissioner in Imphal has said that the new district boundaries will be as per the existing boundaries of concerned boundaries.