Armstrong Chanambam | Apr 7, 2019 | 5 min read


Kuki militants bat for BJP candidate in Manipur's outer parliamentary constituency

Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP has got a shot in the arm in Manipur's outer parliamentary constituency where support from the Kuki militants could prove to be a gamechanger.

Various hill-based militant organisations, which are in talks with the government after signing suspension of operation (SoO) agreements, are now openly throwing their weight behind candidates of their choice. Kukis comprises about 30% of the 10.6 lakh electorate in the Lok Sabha seat held by the Congress now.

In February, two Kuki groups –– Kuki National Organisation's (KNO) and Zomi Re-Unification Organisation –– had allegedly written to BJP president Amit Shah lobbying for a party ticket to BJP Manipur unit's vice-president H Shokopao Benjamin Mate. KNO, has, however, denied writing the letter which was shared widely on social media.

Late last month, the saffron party subsequently announced Mate as its candidate from Manipur's outer parliamentary seat comprising 28 assembly constituencies.

The BJP candidate has denied any links to the recommendation letters. Stating that he has no knowledge of any such endorsement from underground Kuki outfits, Mate said if they did so, it was their wish.

He dubbed the recommendation letters bearing the insignia of Kuki militant groups as cheap politics being played by some groups to mar his name before elections.

“I have made a categorical clarification on the issue that I have not taken any support from any underground elements. It was raised before I got the ticket. It is a foregone case now,” Mate told 101Reporters.

A prominent leader of Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body of the Kuki tribes, revealed that despite the diktats of militant groups to cast their votes for the BJP candidate, Kuki villagers would never vote for a “communal party” who have stopped making Good Friday a state holiday in Gujarat.

"Even if Kuki militants coerce villagers to vote for BJP, they will say yes in their presence but vote for someone else because no one would know," the Kuki leader said.

Did Congress MP buckle under KNO pressure?

Party sources said two-time sitting Congress MP Thangso Baite didn't submit his candidature for the party ticket this time because the veteran wants to return to state politics. The letter allegedly sent by KNO, however, claims that the Congressman had graciously obliged their request of not filing his nomination for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Denying all such reports, KNO spokesman Dr Seilen Haokip says it would be ridiculous for them to write such a letter and then put it out on the social media. “One should not take WhatsApp forwards seriously,” he said raising the issue of fake WhatsApp news.

On the condition of anonymity, a Kuki student leader, however, said it was perhaps true that the Kuki militant organisations wrote to the BJP president.

Having signed the SoO agreement, KNO says their men will exercise their franchise this time. “The government has always set up polling booths even in the designated camps for people to cast their votes. So, for KNO to support a party or candidate is simply exercising their constitutional rights,” Dr Haokip says.

Despite denying lobbying for a BJP candidate of its choice, KNO is not shy in expressing its political leaning. The outfit’s spokesperson says he would want to cast vote for a government that has done a favour to their community by allowing them to express their political views.

“It is normal for any organisation or individual to reciprocate whatever has been favourably done for them. The current dispensation has engaged the Kukis in a political dialogue which was denied to them for the last 70 years. The same privilege was given to NSCN(IM) a long time ago. According to the Kukis, NSCN(IM) are perpetrators of all kind of havoc but the government talks to them,” the KNO spokesperson explains.

The Naga factor

Refusing to be dragged into the issue, Naga People’s Front (NPF) working president Morung Makunga said if someone claims that Kuki militants support the BJP candidate then another one might say that NPF's candidate Dr Lorho S is backed by National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak- Muivah).

"NSCN(IM) is in talks with the Indian government. Kuki outfits are also under SoO agreement. There's no point in mudslinging. Both are trying to solve their issues, so there is no point in commenting whether they have nexus with these underground outfits or not,” the NPF leader said.

Observing that both the BJP and NPF are strong contenders this time from the Lok Sabha seat, Makunga said National People's Party (NPP) Thangminlen Kipgen may upset the applecart because his party is bereft of any communally-driven politics.

In Manipur’s outer parliamentary constituency, the voice of the Nagas cannot be ignored for they account for about 40% of the votes.

Local media reports suggest that the former Hills Area Committee chairman Thangminlen Kipgen was asked to withdraw his candidature on March 28 by the leader of a Kuki underground outfit. Kipgen admitted that he was asked to withdraw his candidature on the last date of filing nominations but denied KNO chief PS Haokip’s involvement.

NPF has also raised questions over postal ballots being dispatched to the designated camps of Kuki underground outfits. "There is no separate electoral roll for those in these designated camps which hardly have over 300 cadres. However, large boxes containing over a thousand postal ballots are being dispatched in these camps,” Makunga said.

Meanwhile, various Zeliangrong civil society groups have alleged that NSCN(I-M) cadres are openly campaigning for the NPF candidate. Earlier, Zeliangrong United Front had warned the Naga militant outfit and its frontal organisation UNC to refrain from interfering in poling activities in Zeliangrong-inhabited areas.

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