Distributing money or alcohol forward of elections isn’t any new apply in India for ‘shopping for’ votes however tea fannings and sugar for a month? 

“Burmese tea and sugar,” mentioned Mangboi Kipgen, resident of Govajang, a small, hilly and impoverished Kuki village alongside India’s unfenced border with Myanmar in Tengnoupal constituency within the eponymous district in Manipur, when requested if any social gathering got here to marketing campaign of their village for the meeting elections. 

Solely the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP)’s native staff got here and gave tea fannings and sugar for a month to each household, Kipgen mentioned.    

Tegnoupal is among the many 20 constituencies within the hills districts that may vote within the second of the two-phase meeting election, on March 5. As of February 26, there was no signal of any electoral marketing campaign within the Kuki tribe-dominated Govajang, similar to a number of different villages on the hills on this distant


The villagers want, above every thing else, roads and cell networks. “Indian networks don’t work right here. We use Burmese (Myanmar’s) SIM playing cards when at residence and Indian SIMs when outdoors the village,” mentioned Thangmang Haokip, secretary of the village welfare committee. 

Nonetheless, they may not place their demand when BJP staff got here looking for votes. Nobody requested them what they wanted. 

Kipgen and Haokip have been content material with the truth that these calls for aren’t a part of their electoral bargains. Kuki leaders of upper standing – together with rebel teams – have pledged their assist to the BJP for a ‘larger trigger’ and actually no different social gathering has managed to hold out a marketing campaign in

 the Kuki dominated areas the place the rebel teams maintain clout. 

Haokip and Kipgen at Govajan village, Tengnoupal | Credit: Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Outlook
Haokip and Kipgen at Govajan village, Tengnoupal | Credit score: Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Outlook

“It is not going to be an election… a range has been made,” mentioned a Meitei shopkeeper at Moreh city, unwilling to be named. 

“We’ll request the MLA after he wins,” mentioned Kigpen. The village can also be prone to be relocated for fencing the border and the native residents are fearful concerning the compensation and rehabilitation they might obtain. “However, in fact, these are small points that may be mentioned later,” he mentioned.  

Govajang isn’t any exception.

There have been no indicators of any electoral marketing campaign in villages similar to Sahei and Haolenphai, the place individuals have been additionally reluctant to talk

 concerning the elections. 

The Kukis are Manipur’s third-largest ethnic group, after the bulk Meitei who dwell within the Imphal valley and the Nagas who, similar to the Kukis, dwell within the hills. Whereas the valley (40 meeting seats) versus hills (20 meeting seats) divide in Manipur is without doubt one of the oldest and main areas of battle within the state, the hills have additionally bled within the Naga versus Kuki conflicts.  

Sahei village in Tengnoupal has seen no electoral campaign | Credit: Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Sahei village in Tengnoupal has seen no electoral marketing campaign | Credit score: Snigdhendu Bhattacharya/Outlook

There are greater than two dozen Kuki rebel teams, 23 of which have entered a suspension of operations (SOO) settlement with the federal government of India – 15 of them below the umbrella of the KNO and eight below the banner of United Individuals’s Entrance (UPF). Armed members of those teams below SOO are purported to dwell of their designated camps however native residents allege this isn’t maintained with any strictness. 

Notably, the federal government of India’s SOO settlement with these teams is legitimate until February 28, the day of the primary section polling in Manipur. It’s anticipated to be prolonged. 

The ‘Menace’ 

On February 25, a day earlier than this author visited the village, the Kuki Nationwide Organisation (KNO) – which runs the so-called Authorities of Zale’n-gam (land of freedom), a Kuki homeland inside India they dream of – introduced that it had “resolved to increase assist to all of the BJP candidates” within the twelfth Manipur meeting election.  

“Consistent with the continued dialogue between (the) KNO and (the) Authorities of India, the central authorities and ruling BJP management has promised swift settlement of Kuki political aspirations,” mentioned the assertion issued by KNO president P S Haokip, including that Union residence minister Amit Shah had “introduced the identical” throughout his public tackle at Churachandpur public floor on February 23.   

“Accordingly, KNO appeals to all chiefs, CSOs leaders and all voters to assist BJP candidates in all KNO operational areas. Any individual or organisation appearing opposite to this enchantment might be deemed appearing in opposition to Kuki curiosity,” the assertion mentioned. 

By ‘KNO operational areas’, they imply the districts of Tengnoupal, Chandel, Kangpokpi, Churachandpur and Pherzawl and a few elements of Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Senapati. 

The subsequent day, United Kuki Liberation Entrance (UKLF), one other rebel group, issued an announcement supporting the BJP candidates in Tengnoupal and Chandel, the areas the place they maintain clout. The language of the assertion that UKLF spokesperson T James shared with choose media homes in Manipur was strikingly just like that of the KNO. The UKLF is a part of the UPF. 

This prompted Congress to submit a memorandum earlier than the chief election commissioner, terming the KNO assertion as “a direct and clear menace to the conduct of free and truthful elections” that “blatantly intimidates individuals to vote for the BJP.”

In a tweet, senior Congress chief Jairam Ramesh, the social gathering’s in-charge for Manipur meeting elections, wrote, “Aap Chronology Samjhiye. 22.02.22: PM involves Manipur. 23.02.22: Union Dwelling Minister involves Manipur. 25.02.22: Banned outfit Kuki Nationwide Organisation points an announcement supporting BJP & threatening voters. It’s a blatant violation of Mannequin Code of Conduct. ECI MUST intervene!”

On the bottom in Manipur’s tribal-dominated districts, although, intimidations from such teams have been happening for the reason that starting of February. Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma’s Nationwide Individuals’s Occasion (NPP), which gained 4 seats in Manipur in 2017, had made repeated allegations – a cost that

 the UKLF had immediately denied and later the BJP, too. 

By the top of the month, although, there was no denial forthcoming. The NPP candidate from Tengnoupal, who’s a Kuki, had in the meantime withdrawn his candidature – a transfer that ought to assist the BJP’s Kuki candidate, Letpao Haokip, get the Kuki votes undivided. In Chandel, the NPP candidate’s nomination was rejected by the election fee.

5 candidates are formally within the fray in Tengnoupal and two in Chandel. In each locations, hardly anybody agreed to talk on file concerning the elections. “It’s not what I say or what you write, it’s how my remark might be interpreted by completely different state and non-state actors is all that issues,”  an NGO employee at Chandel mentioned. 

Solely the Naga Individuals’s Entrance (NPF) that claims to symbolize the Nagas appeared to be in a state to marketing campaign in their very own pockets. 

However, once more, the NPF has extensively been accused of being a frontal organisation of the Nationwide Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), higher often known as NCSN (I-M), with which the Union authorities has a ceasefire settlement with regard to Nagaland for an indefinite interval. The NSCN (I-M) holds vital clout within the Naga-dominated areas within the hills districts.

“Kuki-backed organisation or social gathering intimidating NPF candidates would seemingly entice the wrath of the NCSN (IM) and it might result in a serious catastrophe…  a sequence of ‘actions and reactions’. Presumably, each camps comprehend it. The Congress and the NPP candidates have been ‘smooth targets’ from this angle,” mentioned a

 schoolteacher based mostly in Tengnoupal city who didn’t need to be recognized for worry of retribution.  

Each the NPP and the NPF have been a part of the N Biren Singh-led BJP authorities within the state since 2017 however have opted to go to the election with none pre-poll alliance. 

“The KNO assertion is unlucky. I enchantment to all underground teams to chorus from involving themselves with the elections. Their objective is past election outcomes and they need to go away the political area to us who’re in it,” Langhu Starson, president of the NPF’s Chandel district unit, instructed this author. 

The Equations 

Kuki social organisations threatening members of the tribe with excommunication for voting in opposition to a Naga candidate in Manipur was seemingly as a lot inconceivable as was the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP)’s alliance with the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Occasion (PDP) till the latter occurred. 

The previous, too, has occurred. The BJP’s Chandel candidate, SS Olish, is a Naga. She contested from the identical seat in 2012 as an unbiased and in 2017 as a BJP candidate. Each the occasions, she misplaced to a Naga Individuals’s Entrance (NPF) candidate, seemingly as a result of Nagas outnumber Kukis on this constituency. 

Based on a declaration issued by the Kuki Chiefs’ Affiliation (KCA) on January 26, all of the Kuki ‘civil society organisations’ below the umbrella of KCA Chandel had on January 12 ‘unanimously resolved to assist Ms SS Olish,’ whom they described because the ‘intending BJP candidate in Chandel’. 

“Any particular person/ social gathering and so forth. going in opposition to this settlement and pledge of the apex physique of the Kuki tribes in Chandel district is not going to (sic) be tolerated nor condoned. The implications by any means arising out of the identical would be the sole accountability and accountability of the person/ social gathering themselves.

 Additional, they are going to be boycotted and excommunicated from the Kuki society in Chandel district,” reads the January 26 declaration. 

That was even earlier than the BJP had named her as a candidate and this ‘pledge’ had maybe helped the chief minister in convincing the nationwide management to present Olish one other likelihood to win Chandel if a BJP veteran within the state is to be believed. He spoke to this author on the situation of anonymity. 

However why are the Kuki organisations so overt of their assist for the BJP? What ‘political resolution’ can the Union authorities truly provide the Kukis, whom neither the Meitei nor the Nagas of Manipur think about to be indigenous to the state? 

“It’s the drug cash,” mentioned an NGO employee related to a rehabilitation centre in Tengnoupal, including that the Indo-Myanmar cross border unlawful drug commerce is lately being managed by Kuki insurgent teams who function alongside the Manipur-Myanmar border. “They need security and safety for his or her commerce. It’s so simple as that,” mentioned the NGO employee.  

The drug commerce includes poppy cultivation and smuggling of heroin, crystal methamphetamine and Yaba tablets.

In Imphal, famous human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam echoed him. “Teams who’re identified to be key gamers within the drug commerce, just like the KNO, have overtly come out and supported the ruling BJP. That is an especially harmful development. We have now causes to consider the drug cash is exploding within the mainstream political scene. The way forward for democracy in Manipur might be at nice danger if this development stays unchecked,” he mentioned.  

Aside from fundamental facilities, areas like Chandel, Tengnoupal and Ukhrul additionally want extra authorities motion in direction of the rehabilitation and care of drug abusers and HIV sufferers – reuse of injections have led to a diffusion of HIV in these areas. 

In occasions of the elections, nonetheless, nobody was speaking about these.

SS Olish, the BJP’s Chandel candidate, refused to talk on the matter involving KNO assist or drug smuggling rackets. “I’ll remark, if any, after March 10,” she mentioned, referring to the day when the outcomes are scheduled to be introduced.


Supply hyperlink