Ukhrul: The National People’s Party (NPP) coalition with the BJP in Manipur has been “very, very challenging”, and whether they will ally again after the state assembly elections to be held over the next two weeks will depend on the numbers, party president and Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma told ThePrint in an interview Monday.
The BJP and the NPP have been partners in the governments in Manipur and Meghalaya, but in the run-up to the Manipur polls, they have directed numerous salvos at each other and claimed they will form the government individually when the state votes in two phases on 28 February and 5 March. While the BJP has fielded candidates on all 60 seats, the NPP is fighting on 38.
Sangma, who was in Manipur’s hill district of Ukhrul Monday as part of the NPP’s campaign, also talked about the need to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and pre-poll violence in the state.
“While we are in a coalition, it’s not necessary that everything is rosy. There will be challenges — even marriages have challenges — so obviously coalition politics will have challenges,” he said. “We saw and felt in the last five years that things were very, very challenging for us.”
During the NPP’s public meeting in the district headquarters, Sangma alleged the BJP-led government in Manipur had been a “one-man show”, taking a direct swipe at CM N. Biren Singh. “The deputy chief minister (NPP leader Yumnam Joykumar Singh) was without a portfolio for a year. A coalition government is based on trust, consultation and teamwork. That never happened,” Sangma said.
Also read: BJP reduced AFSPA to ‘organised violence’ act; Cong committed to its repeal: AICC Manipur in-charge
Unlike the BJP, the Congress, the NPP and Naga People’s Front (NPF), another of BJP’s alliance partners in the state, have focused their poll campaign on the removal of the AFSPA from Manipur.
“It’s not about politics. It is a genuine issue and we, as leaders of a political party and the public, feel that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in today’s situation is not at all necessary… Recent incidents that took place are a clear example of that,” Sangma said, referring to the December 2021 incident in Nagaland’s Oting village where 13 civilians were shot dead by the Army in a botched counter-insurgency operation.
“The government needs to explore other ways to handle such a situation and draconian laws like AFSPA must go,” he added.
This was the NPP president’s first political visit to the Tangkhul Naga-dominated Ukhrul district, which is known for contributing many leaders to the Naga movement.
Sangma also hit out at the BJP’s ‘Go To Hills’ campaign. Last year, the Biren Singh government had revived the outreach initiative which aims to ensure that people in remote areas of Manipur get access to welfare schemes.
“(Go to Hills) was just a slogan. When you go to the grassroots, the importance that has to be given to infrastructure was not given,” the NPP chief said.
‘NPP target of pre-poll violence’
Earlier this month, the NPP had alleged that several militant organisations were openly campaigning for the BJP and even lodged a complaint with the Manipur election office.
Then, last Saturday, the BJP and NPP were at loggerheads following pre-poll violence. According to reports, the father of NPP’s candidate from the Andro constituency was shot at by unidentified men during a campaign in Imphal East district.
Sangma described the incident as “‘unfortunate” and said that violence had taken Manipur, otherwise a “peaceful state”, “back to those difficult days”. When asked if he felt that the NPP in particular was being targeted, he said: “It looks like it… which is concerning… but there is an underlying political message in that also.”
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
Also read: NPP alleged militants campaigning for BJP in Manipur. Here’s why it didn’t push issue with EC