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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 09:32 GMT
Manipur poll tests ethnic balance
Women in election procession
The Meiteis campaign for Manipur's territorial integrity
By the BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta

In the electoral scheme of things, if Uttar Pradesh (UP) holds centre-stage, Manipur is on India's distant periphery, geographically and politically.

Map showing Manipur state
While UP sends more than 80 members to the Indian parliament, Manipur sends a mere two.

But the small north-eastern state has been in turmoil throughout last year and the elections to the state assembly could further aggravate instability.

Four governments have fallen in Manipur since December 1997, forcing Delhi to impose central rule.

The state has also witnessed the destruction of its assembly building along with the offices of all major political parties by a mob in the capital, Imphal.

The residences of many former ministers were attacked and nearly 20 people died, all in protests over Delhi's decision to extend a general ceasefire in the north-east.

Troops on Imphal street
Security remains a high priority
Originally intended for neighbouring Nagaland, the ceasefire with Naga rebels was later on to be extended to Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur.

Delhi finally withdrew the ceasefire but Manipur's majority Meitei community remains suspicious.

They fear Manipur's Naga-inhabited areas may be parcelled off to Nagaland in a peace deal with the main rebel group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN).

For parties like the Congress, the Federal Party and the Democratic Peoples Party, recently formed by leaders of the agitation, Manipur's territorial integrity is the single biggest issue.

Hung assembly

Other parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Samata Party are silent on a declaration inspired by a pro-ceasefire group calling for all Naga legislators to support the integration of Manipur's Naga-populated areas with Nagaland.

Of the 20 state assembly seats in the tribal areas, nine are fully dominated by Naga voters, and 11 by other tribes.

Manipuri mother and child
Manipur's electorate is fragmented

Congress leaders in the state are trying to win over the majority Meitei community in the lowland areas who dominate 40 of the 60 assembly seats.

But the Meitei vote is likely to be split between the Congress, the newly-formed Democratic People's Party and smaller left-wing and regional parties.

As a result, political analysts in Manipur are again predicting a hung assembly with no party gaining a majority.

This would be bad news for a state whose economy is in trouble with a fiscal deficit that has risen ten-fold since 1997.

Manipur also sits next to Burma's infamous Golden Triangle.

Drug smuggling is rampant as is HIV/Aids, mainly spread through intravenous drug use.

All political parties have promised effective anti-Aids programmes.

But there can be no economic development and mass employment without political stability.

And unless the state's socio-economic conditions improve, Manipur's Aids time bomb may continue to tick away.

See also:

19 Jun 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Manipur's ethnic bloodlines
20 Jun 01 | South Asia
Fresh violence in Manipur
19 Jun 01 | South Asia
'Shoot on sight' order in Manipur
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