The Naga vote holds the key in the Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat where three of the five hill districts — Senapati, Ukhrul, Tamenglong — entirely comprise Nagas. In Senapati, there is little sign of an election except an occasional BJP flag that flutters alongside one of Naga People’s Front.
A thin wooden barricade and a lone policeman marks the Naga-Manipur border. In the upper reaches of this hill district, which rises into the taller, more statuesque mountains of Nagaland, voters are pledging allegiance to their Naga leaders.
Two of the ten candidates are Nagas. In a first, the BJP has fielded a Naga candidate — Prof Kamei Gangumei of Tamenglong, a man highly respected across tribal and non-tribal communities. The second is NPF’s Soso Lorho, a protege of Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.
The people do no seem interested in sitting MP Thangso Baite. “He is a Kuki, not a Naga,” says Alfred Leivon.
RK Mishra, who hails from Varanasi, has been living in Senapati for over 30 years. He is watching the fight in his home town with far more enthusiasm than in his adopted village, Maram. “All the biggies are fighting from Varanasi. My wife has also gone back and will come after elections. Here in Manipur we will vote for sure. Our landlords will tell us whom to vote for. I can’t air my political opinion, I am not allowed,” says Mishra.
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Maram’s allegiance seems to have already been been decided. Benjamin Leba is a contractor and says there is no question of any one other than the NPF winning. “We will have a general body meeting where the entire village will congregate. Whatever the chief decides will be relayed across the village. This entire region has at least 98 per cent NPF supporters. Chief Minister Ibobi Singh only spends on his own people, the tribals are forgotten. It is time to show our strength,” says Leba.
As one comes closer to Imphal valley, BJP flags replace those of the NPF. “You never know with Manipur. As far as we can see, it is one of the two — BJP or NPF — who will win. But then Congress has great resources and has been known to buy out votes at the last minute. Moreover the two Naga candidates may actually do each other a disservice by cutting into each other’s vote,’’ says former UNC member Paul Leo.